Eanes ISD officials met virtually for a special called meeting Sept. 17 to discuss reopening campuses amid the coronavirus pandemic. Campuses welcomed back about 25% of students—a percentage that is expected to increase by next week—and a majority of teachers Sept. 8.

The meeting arrived on the heels of an announcement made Sept. 11 stating that all EISD staff will be required to return to campus as early as Sept. 21 regardless of whether they requested to work from home.

EISD’s human resources department sent out a letter Sept. 11 to inform district staff of the board’s decision to reinstate in-person learning for all students who requested it. According to that letter, the anticipated increase to capacity Sept. 21 will require more teachers on campus.

According to updated numbers, about 52% of families have requested in-person learning, though percentages vary across campuses.

The letter was met with concern from district staff and the EISD community. In under a week, an online petition titled “Optional In-person Teaching for Teachers During COVID-19” has garnered more than 900 signatures.

Trustees also heard from several parents, students and teachers during the virtual board meeting, including parent Kimberly Frost.

“I’m alarmed by the news that teachers are being called back to the classroom beginning Sept. 21 regardless of whether they have a medical reason to need to stay remote,” Frost said. “I urge you to find a compromise.”

Superintendent Tom Leonard attempted to provide clarity and said the letter also asked concerned staff members to speak with Laurie Lee, EISD's chief human resources officer, who has been meeting virtually with staff all week.

The district still plans to provide accommodations for teachers with medical conditions that could increase the severity of a COVID-19 diagnosis, such as the opportunity to work in the building but in a secluded room, Leonard said. Delayed returns could also occur for select teachers.

Lee confirmed 166 staff members, 107 of them teachers, submitted medical documentation to work remotely. EISD has also experienced a 15% increase in teacher and professional resignations this year, with more late-notice resignations than in previous years.

Additionally, the district has obtained fewer substitute teachers this year. As of the Sept. 17 meeting, EISD had 227 substitute teachers, as compared to an average of 300 in previous years.

Regardless of the proposed increased capacity, Leonard said EISD principals need more teachers on campus.

“My team has said even at 25%, we’ve got to get [teachers] into this building as soon as possible,” Leonard said.

Trustees agreed that delaying the decision to increase capacity was not in the students’ and district’s best interests.

“I think at this point, it does more harm than good if we delay that, and we have to move forward, and we have to give it a chance to work,” Board President Jennifer Champagne said.