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Austin ISD labor union makes list of reopening demands, asks AISD for school to start in September

Education Austin said Austin ISD needs to use public health data to determine when it is truly safe to reopen schools.

AUSTIN, Texas — Education Austin, the labor union for Austin Independent School District employees, made a list of school reopening demands for district leaders as school is scheduled to begin virtually on Aug. 18. 

"Nervous as hell is how we're feeling. We're hearing from teachers and school employees every single day and it's unvarnished. This is not about talking to your boss. This is about talking to your union that you can be completely honest with. People are scared," said Education Austin's President Ken Zarifis. 

The labor union is asking for AISD to reschedule the school year to Sept. 8 and asking for online learning to be offered for nine weeks or more after the Sept. 8 start date. 

"I've got teachers that don't know how to do a Google Doc and that's not their fault. They just don't know how. So, you can't send people back into this work without understanding some basics of of online instruction," said Zarifis. "We clearly understand there is not enough training having been done for teachers to even deliver quality instruction."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on July 28 issued guidance for the reopening of schools, saying school leaders should decide when and how to reopen and not local authorities.

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According to the school district's reopening plans, it has a reopen task force reviewing possible structures for the reopening of schools and AISD currently has no plans to alter breaks or extend the year. If the district needs to suspend classes due to health and safety conditions, teaching and learning will continue online. 

Education Austin believes all schools should reopen when there is a decline in new cases for at least 14 consecutive days, a positive test rate of less than 5%, and a transmission rate of less than 1%. The labor union also started a petition asking Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz to "respect the health of our students, families, teachers, and school employees."

"We don't want to worry about layoffs, furloughs and terminations. We want to hear that an employer that supports its workers, the students and their families," said Zarifis.

AISD said in their reopening plans the district will ensure it's ready to smoothly transition between on-campus teaching and learning, at-home teaching and learning and a combination of the two as local COVID-19 conditions change. 

"This may include having fewer numbers of students on campus each day and asking students and staff to wear a facial covering," the school district said. 

For Austin ISD's most recent COVID-19 updates, click here

AISD responded to the list of demands with this statement:

"Austin ISD has continued to extensively plan for the upcoming school year, which includes safety measures and precautions for students and staff in alignment with guidance from state and local authorities and health leaders. We are proud to have worked through the summer to secure millions of pieces of personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, hand sanitizer and touchless thermometers. While we understand the uncertainty our community is facing as families and teachers make decisions regarding the district's reopening, we are listening and working to make the best decision for our community."

"These demands are about taking care of people. These demands are simply about no one taking care of people's health and safety and well-being, which we believe is a priority for any employer. So those things shouldn't be hard," said Zarifis.

Here's a breakdown of Education Austin's COVID-19 reopening demands:

  • Reschedule the 2020-2021 school year start date of Aug. 18 (for online learning) to Sept. 8 for all AISD schools.
  • Online learning (including an SEL component) will be offered for nine weeks or more after a Sept. 8 start date.
  • All AISD schools will reopen only when there is a decline in new cases for at least 14 consecutive days, a positive test rate of less than 5% and a transmission rate of less than 1%.
  • Provide a weekly COVID-19 update to include the most current data, trends, research, models and recommendations from public health officials.
  • Establish a COVID-19 (reopening and 2020-2021 school year) Task Force prior to Aug. 18 to include parents, guardians, students, staff, teachers, Education Austin, and other community stakeholders in making further detailed recommendations to AISD.
  • Provide a clear and concise written reopening and safety plan for all campuses and facilities to be shared publicly with minimal worksite discretion.
  • All AISD employees will be guaranteed 100% pay, no layoffs and no furloughs.
  • “Hero Pay” at the rate of 1.5 times for classified or hourly staff (i.e. custodial, transportation, etc.) that physically report to work.
  • Provide uniform professional development (PD) prior to the Sept. 8 start date to fully support teachers and staff with technology usage for online learning to include: BLEND Class Set-Up, BLEND Content Upload, How to Upload/Embed Links or Videos, Google Drive and Google Docs, Zoom or other interactive student and teacher platforms and other COVID-19 related PD.
  • Assign internally or hire externally an individual or team to solely coordinate reopening, navigate the 2020-2021 school year and beyond as part of AISD’s Emergency Management Team specific to COVID-19 pandemic.
  • All employees have the right to refuse to return to their worksite if they feel unsafe.
  • Provide 10 leave days in addition to the federal CARES ACT allotment of 10 days for all employees in case of a need to quarantine a second time.
  • Consult with AISD Equity Office to ensure reopening plans are aligned with racial and economic equity goals.
  • Provide a Special Education Plan to include outreach and contact with all special education families in determining needs to provide Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and instructional support.
  • Increase funding for the Community School model to expand and hire additional staffing as needed.
  • Provide students and parents training options for how to utilize online learning via digital modules and/or physical packets that will count towards required instructional minutes for students.
  • Determine most appropriate and simple technology platforms for teachers, parents, and students in each grade level that account for cyber safety and digital citizenship guidelines in order to reduce risk and liability for both staff and families.
  • There will be no administration of the STAAR, AISD Benchmark Tests, or other STAAR-related assessments.
  • Along with healthcare providers and officials, follow and make public strict protocols for social distancing, handwashing, wearing of a face mask, face-shields, or goggles, testing, contact tracing and quarantine procedures for students and staff.
  • Purchase and supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to all staff, students and campus visitors once a return to campuses is announced.
  • Conduct a thorough assessment of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems via an external entity to minimize health risks through HVAC systems and make appropriate changes before the return of any staff to their worksites.
  • COVID related leave accommodations for employees that can work from home should apply to classified employees or others that cannot work from home. Employees that cannot work from home should not be forced to apply for COVID-19 specific or FMLA leave, which limits their pay, time that they are allowed to be home and forces them to use their own sick and/or personal leave.
  • Coordinate with healthcare providers to eliminate all insurance copayments and deductibles and provide free COVID-19 testing and treatments to all staff.

WATCH: Texas educators concerned over new school reopening guidelines

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