State of Texas: Teachers weigh risks of return to the classroom

AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Texas continues to set daily records for COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations. The spike in cases comes as schools across the state make plans to reopen in the coming weeks. Teachers across the state are reacting to new guidelines set by the Texas Education Agency for returning to classes this fall. Education Austin, a teachers union based in Austin, held a news conference to express the concerns of teachers. “We’re dying to go back to work. But we are not willing to risk death to go back to work,” Education Austin president Ken Zarifis said in Wednesday’s meeting. Several teachers expressed their concerns for personal safety and health. Others said the safety protocols put in place by TEA will be hard to enforce. “I don’t know how much any of you have tried to get a sixth, seventh, eighth grader to do something for almost eight hours a day. But good luck getting them to keep their mask on and stay away from people for eight hours a day,” middle school teacher Eric Ramos said. Education Austin is requesting AISD to postpone classes in-person for at least nine weeks, and offer online classes instead. However, that would not comply with TEA’s current guidance. Pflugerville High School teacher August Plock, a member of the Texas State Teachers Association and president of the association in his area, had similar questions. “How do we maintain a six foot social distancing level in our classrooms? Who’s going to have to wear masks in the classrooms that the governor’s orders are for Texans who are 10 and older?” Plock said. Plock is a teacher, and a parent, so he said he feels torn between both sides. “As a parent, I am concerned. Also, I know that our public school systems are designed for face to face interactions is how we teach. That’s how our schools are designed. That distance learning may not be as effective as in-classroom learning. But at the same time, it’s not worth risking everybody’s health,” Plock said. “I recognize the best way to teach our students is in classroom. But I also recognize that it may not be safe for us to do that right now. And I know that there are a lot of teachers who are very scared about coming back into the classroom right now,” Plock continued. Some districts, including Plock’s, will be offering teachers who are at a higher-risk to teach online classes from their classrooms, while other teachers at the school handle students learning in-person. Plock said he will be teaching his social studies class in-person. “I guess I probably have those same fears myself, but at the same time, I recognize that I may be called on August 13, to start school,” Plock said Wednesday.

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