RRISD employees receive ‘cold’ survey, express concerns in perceived ultimatum

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ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Teachers and staff in the Round Rock Independent School District expressed hurt feelings and disappointment in their administration after receiving what they called a “cold” survey Thursday afternoon.

The survey, which the superintendent later clarified was meant for planning purposes and was not intended to sound like an ultimatum, offered four choices:

  1. I intend to request an accomodation because I have a medically diagnosed health condition that puts me at high risk
  2. I intend to request leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act)
  3. I intend to request leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  4. I intend to resign from my position

“If you indicate that you DO NOT intend to report to work, a representative from Benefits or HR will contact you soon to assist you with the leave process or resignation,” the survey reads.

Dan Wright, the president of Education Round Rock, the union representing several hundred RRISD employees, said the survey scared a lot of people, particularly at a time when they are looking for more guidance from the district.

“We expected a survey that would give us an opportunity as teachers to express our concerns to the district. We felt like our input was very necessary at this time. Instead we got an ultimatum. Show up and if you don’t qualify for leave, resign. It was very cold and not what we expected,” Wright said.

1st grade dual-language teacher Valarie Brown agreed. She said that many teachers are feeling a level of anxiety. She and her fellow teachers don’t think there is a way to safely return to school in-person.

“We really don’t see a way to keep everyone safe, to have that distance and to still provide that great education,” Brown said. What’s going to happen when a teacher is out sick and how many people are going to get quarantined?”

Dr. Steve Flores, the RRISD superintendent, reassured staff in a subsequent email on Friday and pivoted the ongoing confusion towards the lack of direction from the Texas Education Agency.

“I took no pleasure in having to ask this difficult but necessary question. The reality is the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and other public officials are steadfast in their plans to open schools this Fall in spite of  the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Central Texas and across the state,” Dr. Flores said. “We are continuously monitoring the situation, working with public health agencies and are actively formulating scenarios that will guide us as the COVID-19 public health crisis continues to impact our mission.”

The TEA announcement fails to acknowledge our current situation and the ever-changing status of our current public health crisis.

Dr. Steve Flores, RRISD Superintendent

“Let me be clear, we are in no way giving employees an ultimatum. The intent of the survey was to make sure we can assist those who may need accommodations as early as possible,” Dr. Flores said in his letter to staff.

Jenny Lacoste-Caputo, the executive director of the RRISD communications team, echoed that sentiment.

“I think some people saw that as an either/or. You either have to come back to work on August 10th or I have to resign. That’s absolutely not the case, this is strictly for planning purposes right now,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

While the Texas Education Agency has mandated that at least a portion of fall schooling must be taught in-person, LaCoste-Caputo wanted to reassure teachers and families that safety will be top of mind.

Education Round Rock and teachers like Brown will continue to push for a virtual start for everyone when Aug. 20, the first day of school, rolls around. August 10 is Staff Development Day.

“Make your voice heard,” Brown instructed her fellow teachers. “Let people know what you expect and what you need.”

The RRISD Board of Trustees will meet Monday to solidify plans for the fall, including expectations for teachers and students as well as safety precautions being prepared for in-person learning. A public announcement is expected to follow later that evening or early Tuesday morning.

This story is ongoing and will receive updates throughout the day.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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