AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: The video published above is a KVUE report from October, where Mari Salazar spoke with two Austin ISD teachers worried about losing their health accommodations.
An Austin ISD high school teacher with a rare heart disease said her accommodations request to teach from home has been denied, according to a post from her personal Facebook account.
In the post, Austin High School teacher Annie Dragoo said she has had ADA accommodations for several years due to a rare heart disease and expressed that she "can't help but think that if someone with my medical history and at-risk status cannot receive accommodations to teach from home, then no one will."
Dragoo is not the first Austin ISD teacher to express concern about health accommodations with the district's new plan. KVUE's Mari Salazar spoke with two teachers in October who shared the same worries about losing their health accommodations.
In a statement responding to KVUE's story from October, the district said:
"The safety and wellbeing of all students and staff are the priorities for Austin ISD. We are committed to honoring as many accommodations as possible through the end of the fall semester. If there is a need for changes to accommodations to meet the needs of in-person learners, it will be approached on a campus-by-campus basis in collaboration with campus leadership and the employee to explore possible solutions.
"The Texas Education Agency currently requires school districts to provide on-campus instruction and we are committed to providing outstanding educational opportunities for our students. In order for our scholars to learn in a safe environment, we need our educators to support their academic, social and emotional needs on-campus in a safe and socially distant setting. We will continue to work closely with our staff and ensure extra precautions, including the installation of Plexiglas barriers in some elementary classrooms and cafeterias."
Dragoo said in her post that she provided everything the district asked her to provide. She said she has taught during the fall semester while undergoing chemotherapy, taught from the hospital and cardiac heart failure clinic and made four trips to Houston's Medical Center for special testing and surgery in the midst of the school year.
Dragoo also said her husband's accommodation request was denied, too, despite having a note from her doctor stating he could potentially bring COVID-19 back into their home, where she could be infected. She claims since Austin ISD reinforced in-person learning again, her husband has "brought home two viruses that did not affect him but made me very ill."
As of Nov. 2, Austin ISD welcomed back any students who want to return to in-person classrooms.
"It is clear that you are not concerned for your employees and would rather put many of us at risk than allow us to teach from home," Dragoo said in the post. "Why are you treating your valued employees so badly? I am only one of many teachers whose lives are at risk and offer more than a teaching unit to Austin ISD. You will be held accountable."
In November, the district announced it will temporarily transition to remote-only instruction for the week following Thanksgiving break, Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, after Travis County entered Stage 4 of its coronavirus risk-based guidelines.
AISD released the following statement Tuesday:
"AISD cannot comment on specific employee matters. AISD developed a Benefits Review Committee to review all remote work accommodation requests for the Spring semester. The committee individually reviewed each request– minus identifying information to protect employee privacy – and determined if a remote work arrangement was feasible based on medical risk, if the position was deemed as essential to district function or directly impacts high-needs students or populations, and the needs of the campus or department."
As of Monday, 49 medical accommodations for remote work have been approved of the 1,156 total requests received for the spring semester. Fall accommodations are as follows:
- Approved: 1,244
- Denied: 66
- Pending: 74
Austin ISD's superintendent, Stephanie Elizalde, posted this message on the district's website for staff:
"Dear Austin ISD Team,
You may have heard a lot about accommodations in the last 24 hours. I wanted to share with you some additional information for context.
AISD developed a Benefits Review Committee to review all remote work accommodation requests for the Spring semester. The committee individually reviewed each request– minus identifying information to protect employee privacy–and determined if a remote work arrangement was feasible based on medical risk, if the position was deemed as essential to district function or directly impacts high-needs students or populations, and the needs of the campus or department.
Out of an abundance of caution in the fall, far more remote work accommodations were granted in Austin ISD than in other districts in Texas, and–even as other districts rescinded–we honored those remote-work accommodations as new information was provided by the CDC, and more evidence of the success of safety protocols in schools was confirmed.
As we look toward the spring semester, we are preparing to welcome more students back to on-campus instruction. We know that it is paramount that our teachers and staff are able to provide the high-quality, on-campus teaching and support that each and every student deserves. The committee consulted with local health authorities regarding the CDC’s list of health conditions that could put employees at higher risk and learned that the risk posed was reduced by the health and safety protocols in place at our campuses. It was determined that only those at the highest risk who could best fulfill their duties remotely would be eligible for remote work, in order to best support teaching and learning for students.
Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling and teachers are estimated to have two to three times the effect of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership. At every juncture, we consider what is best for our teachers. How do we create an environment where they can excel? More importantly, how do we keep them safe?
AND, our students are the very core of our mission. What is best for them must motivate our actions and consume our time and energy. With very few exceptions, there is simply no question that in-person learning taught by teachers instead of remote via camera, is best for our students. Academic achievement is higher as is the level of positive personal connection between teacher and student.
Our students who are choosing on-campus instruction should be served by their teachers. Data, both local and nationally, continue to support that schools are NOT a high risk for virus transmission. These are very difficult times and granted, there are no perfect solutions. However, AISD has taken multiple steps to ensure that our school facilities are disinfected and hostile to the spread of the coronavirus. At each campus, trained professionals are in place to work with our returning teachers. We have provided extensive PPE such as masks, shields, hand sanitizer and even on-site testing for staff and students.
Finally, a word of praise for the teachers who have come to school - every day - despite their concerns. They have done a great job and deserve the support of every teacher, every school administrator, every child and every parent."
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