AUSTIN, Texas — On Monday, Austin ISD superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz said families have a choice of taking classes 100% online or 100% in-school, but teachers said it doesn't seem like they have a choice.
"We can't talk about student safety unless you're talking about educators' safety," said Noel Candelaria, the Texas State Teachers Association president. "Teachers and educators right now are just fearful of all the unknowns at this moment."
There's nothing teachers want more than to reunite with students, but a few told KVUE if it means putting their lives and their family's lives on the line, it's not worth it.
"We're not saying that we don't want school to start in August, but we're saying we would like a choice if we can be remote or face to face, because we have families that we have to protect as well," said Christina Henson, AISD special education teacher. "Having a student wear a mask for eight hours a day, it's going to be hard for some of them. We had planned on a four-hour block for students and now they're back to a full day."
"A lot of times when you're talking about student safety, you have to talk about teacher safety because teachers and students are in the same room," said Patty Candelaria, an AISD teacher and dyslexia therapist. "For myself, I have a preexisting condition. I was born with a congenital heart defect. I've had three open-heart surgeries. I don't want to put myself at risk. My kids will not be attending face to face."
AISD teachers Henson, Patty Candelaria, Nicole Dean and Christine Johnson said they got a survey asking if they'd like to be on campus this year. All four agree they'll feel safer teaching virtually.
"But we haven't heard back from it," said Patty Candelaria. "Other districts in our state are making those calls and AISD hasn't made the call."
The Texas Education Agency released new guidelines on Tuesday, saying that along with Gov. Greg Abbott's order, masks will be required inside school buildings. Screenings will also be required and teachers will get training.
"COVID-19 is a major disruption. But if we make certain operational adjustments, we will create an environment where students can safely learn on campus by significantly reducing the risk of viral spread on campus," the TEA states in its guidelines. "Our collective goal is to safely maximize learning opportunities for students, and we know on-campus instruction is likely the best option for most."
On top of teacher safety concerns, some teachers are concerned about how the school district will monitor the cleanliness of the schools.
"All of these details and plans need to be clearly identified and clearly laid out and ensure that we're including educator voice in detailing those plans," said Noel Candelaria.
"My concern, it's a personal one, because I would really love to be there with the students, but I am incredibly claustrophobic. So just to go to a store for 15 to 20 minutes, it takes everything in me to just wear that mask while I'm in there and get out as fast as I can. If it's longer than 30 minutes tops, I have a major panic attack," said Johnson, an AISD special education teacher. "It's just going to be very hard with those masks – not just for students, but for teachers and the faculty and everyone else that's there to have that mask on your face all day long."
Dean, an AISD second grade teacher, said without set plans for the fall, many teachers don't know how to prepare a curriculum for their students.
"If we knew we were going to 100% remote, we could be developing super high quality online learning," said Dean. "As far as who gets to do online teaching and who is going to come in to face to face, those do need to be decisions made now."
"Everybody deserves a future and everybody deserves to be protected, and the best way to protect us is keep us at home. Keep us at home. Let's start school virtually," said Patty Candelaria.
KVUE reached out to Austin ISD for comment, but AISD is closed the week of July 6 to July 10. The district will return to normal business hours on Monday, July 13.
Leander ISD is giving parents a choice between online or in-person learning, as well. Round Rock ISD sent out a survey to parents asking for opinions, but the district doesn't have a final decision for the fall.
Meanwhile, Georgetown ISD said it is planning an option for families to choose in-person learning or full-time, at-home virtual instruction.
The Texas Pediatric Society released the following statement regarding the TEA's new guidelines:
"The Texas Pediatric Society, the Texas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, appreciates the commitment demonstrated by the TEA, in collaboration with Gov. Abbott's Coronavirus Medical Advisory Team, to ensure in-person instruction is available to every child, while maintaining flexibility for parents to choose remote learning as an option. TPS will continue to review the TEA guidance and serve as a resource to the agency and the governor's office in keeping the health and wellbeing of Texas children a priority during this unprecedented pandemic."
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