Many teachers worried about their safety in the classroom

Teachers have just as many questions about the start of the school year as parents. But the new safety guidelines issued by the state of Texas offer few answers.

Zeph Capo of the Texas American Federation of Teachers joined Good Day FOX 4 to talk about some of the concerns.

Masks will be mandatory in schools but only for students that are over the age of 10. Kindergarten through fourth-grade teachers are a little worried about that.

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“This morning we are planning to host a webinar for over 4,000 teachers who have registered to find out about medical leave, about accommodation requests and potential retirement. That’s showing the real concerns teachers have for the lack of appropriate policies coming out of the state,” Capo said.

Capo said many teachers are concerned about safety for themselves and also for their students.

“The fact that the state is holding districts hostage on paying or withholding money if they don’t force or if they don’t offer an in-person option for any individual, it’s really sad that we are making individual decisions again much the way that we did in March and April when we gave individuals the right to decide if they wanted to wear masks or not. It’s directly related to why we’re in the hotspot situation we are,” he said.

Texas AFT does believe a number of teachers who are age 50 and above will be able to qualify for medical leave.

“They have underlying conditions that put them at higher levels of risk and they’ve been teaching diligently and giving their career 20, 30 or 40 years to kids in the state of Texas. I certainly would understand if at this point they have to consider the safety of themselves and their families first,” Capo said.

The Texas Education Agency points out that few children who contract COVID-19 have serious symptoms and nearly all recover.

“I think that’s very premature,” Capos said. “We actually have some of the highest cases of breakouts in pre-Ks or preschools in the state of Texas compared to the rest of the country and further the conditions in a lot of our preschools are very different than what we often see in schools. I just walked past mine the other day and there were five kids out on the playground with two adults all spaced out at least 10 feet away from one another with no one else around them. And that is something that is hard for any of our teachers to fathom will happen in an actual school if we’re allowed to come back in person.”

And the TEA guidelines leave many other practical questions for teachers.

“What if a student comes up sick? Is it just that classroom, those students, who are quarantined and the people they come in contact?” said Rena Honea, with Alliance AFT.

Castleberry ISD Superintendent Dr. John Ramos said the biggest frustration that he and many other administrators and educators across the state have is that no one is providing answers for how to reopen schools safely.

“So that means a lot of those responsibilities are gonna have to fall to local school districts and local school board members to try to figure it out. And so I think that is the hide of people’s frustration and to be quite honest with you they’re worried, they’re worried if their kids are going to be safe if the staff and faculty are going to be safe and I don’t blame them for that.”

Many districts are moving forward with more detailed reopening plans. They will be providing more specifics about those plans later in the summer.

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