AUSTIN (KXAN) — A petition created by an Austin Independent School District student on behalf of her McCallum High School English teacher has quickly garnered more than 5,000 signatures within a 24-hour period.
17-year-old Olivia Navarro said she created the petition after her teacher, Daniel Myers, confessed to his class that his job was on the line for refusing to show up to campus out of fear of contracting COVID-19.
“He was very open about it, and he said basically ‘I may need to take leave soon or I’m looking for another job, because I can’t continue to work from home and teach you guys,'” Navarro recalled.
Navarro said she and several classmates launched a guerilla marketing campaign to promote the petition. She said she personally emailed it to the entire staff at the high school.
“Our teachers are humans, and they should have the same rights as us to keep their families safe,” Navarro said.
Myers told KXAN he was not sick nor were any of his family members. He said he was doing what health leaders are asking everyone to do.
“We made a commitment to our community by staying home when we can, not leaving when we don’t have to,” Myers said. “I feel like my back is pretty much against the wall right now.”
Myers has continued to teach his classes virtually; he says the district has taken away one of his personal or sick days for each day he does not show up to campus.
AISD is committed to continued engagement with our staff, including Mr. Myers, in both the accommodations process and the identifying of creative solutions to support them where possible. Some individuals are granted an accommodation to work remotely. Staff members who do not qualify for this accommodation are encouraged to engage with their supervisor to explore other accommodations at the worksite.Austin Independent School District
The district has asked all teachers, like Myers, who have not been granted a medical accommodation, to return to campus to teach both in-person and remote learners. The district opened up campuses to a maximum 25% of students on Oct. 5 with plans to continue expanding capacity in November.
On Monday, Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde told the Board of Trustees that secondary schooling would need to be expanded to accommodate more teacher/student interactions or risk losing state funding.
As of Oct. 6, the district had approved more than 700 medical accommodations to staff. Elizalde said the district has approved more accommodations than school districts in Texas of similar size.
“I wish I could just say ‘yes.’ This has nothing to do with what I want to do. But we are already sending central staff to provide support now,” Elizalde said.
Myers is pushing the district to begin using a volunteer system similar to one Education Austin has outlined. It works when teachers that are willing to work in person report to campus while those who would prefer to remain virtual are allowed to work remotely.
But Elizalde explained the difficulties of that plan to trustees on Monday, saying a concept like that would work for adults but would be “chaos” for students. Students in different grade levels would need to be matched together, and it could lead to teacher quarrelling, instability and high student-teacher turnover.
Myers says he has met with his principal and the district’s HR team to try to find creative solutions, however, he said the district is not budging—they want him on campus or it could lead to his termination.
“Teachers are conditioned to roll over a lot and just accept things, and I don’t want to do that,” Myers said. “What I want to do is teach my kids. I want to move through my year with the curriculum that I have and watch them grow and learn. I’m not here trying to be a martyr or get in some fight with the TEA.”