More Central Texas teachers say schools are reopening campuses too soon

Travis County

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — More Central Texas teachers are voicing concern about reopening schools next month.

Teachers unions from the Del Valle and Pflugerville Independent School District want the governor to give local school districts flexibility to decide how and when to bring students back to campus.

Right now, all districts are required to offer some sort of in-person learning or risk losing funding. Some teachers say it’s not a fair choice.

“There’s nothing more that we want than to go back into the classroom but we can’t. We can’t right now, it’s not safe,” says Michelle Cardenas, a Del Valle preschool teacher and Del Valle Education Association member.

Cardenas says for the first time in 16 years, she considered quitting her profession.

“That thought crossed my mind because how can I get sick? If I bring this virus home and I infect my family or I infect my mom– my mom’s 75, I can’t live with that. I can’t live with infecting my students or my colleagues,” she says.

Cardenas’ group teamed up with the Pflugerville Educators Association on Monday to demand that their school districts go fully online for the first nine weeks of school.

“We will not know until the end of July in Pflugerville ISD when parents report to the school district if they choose to select the 100% distance learning option, or if they pick the 100% in the classroom option,” says August Plock, a Pflugerville high school teacher & Pflugerville Educators Association president.

Right now, the Texas Education Agency says parents can choose to either send their children to the classroom or learn remotely but districts must offer on-campus options or lose funding.

“It’s like we’re being blackmailed into opening just to get our money… and it’s not fair,” Cardenas says.

Some warn of long-term effects if teachers are forced to report to campus.

“Over 29% of our teachers in the state of Texas are over 50 years old,” says Katrina Van Houten, a high school math teacher and president of the Del Valle Education Association. “These are some of our best, most experienced teachers and they are all considering early retirement rather than be forced to return to their campuses when it’s not safe to be there. Years of experience will be walking out the door and this is going to be a huge loss to students.”

They say making the call now is better for safety and quality of education.

“We can be prepared to make sure that our kids have the best online learning possible, but we need that decision now,” Cardenas says.

Del Valle and Pflugerville now join Austin ISD’s teachers union, which made a similar call last week.

KXAN reached out to the TEA after those calls to ask if the agency would consider proposals of conducting virtual learning for the first nine weeks of school, and reassessing whether in-person learning can safely come back at that point.

Here is the TEA’s response:

Current law requires districts to provide in-person instruction in order to receive state funding, with few exceptions. The Commissioner has provided funding flexibility for the delivery of educational services, as long as the district provides the opportunity for on-campus instruction.

The Agency will support state and local decisions that are made pursuant to applicable law. If schools were to be ordered closed again due to the pandemic, the Agency will still provide funding for remote instruction.

Absent the flexibility provided by the Commissioner, with few exceptions, the law only allows funding when a student is being instructed on campus.

The Agency has created funding flexibility in order to provide funding in situations that would not normally be funded in both the 2019-20 and the 2020-21 school year.

After the 2020-21 school year, the Legislature will decide how future funding will flow.

Texas Education Agency

San Marcos CISD’s administration is set to present their fall reopening plan next Monday at their regular scheduled board meeting.

That will be held virtually here and parents are encouraged to attend.

A spokesperson for Hays CISD says reopening details will be presented to the board on Thursday and expect to publish a final plan on Monday.

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