Austin ISD teachers demand keeping classes online for start of school year

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis hosted an online press conference with Austin ISD teachers July 8. (Screenshot courtesy Education Austin)
Education Austin President Ken Zarifis hosted an online press conference with Austin ISD teachers July 8. (Screenshot courtesy Education Austin)

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis hosted an online press conference with Austin ISD teachers July 8. (Screenshot courtesy Education Austin)

One day after the Texas Education Agency released guidelines that require school districts to offer in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year, Education Austin has demanded that Austin ISD keep classes online for at least the first nine weeks this fall to avoid health concerns regarding to ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We are all aware of the COVID-19 pandemic and the risks our schools, our teachers, our families are facing,” said Ken Zarifis, the president of the Education Austin teacher’s union. “We have heard too much from the [TEA] commissioner and the governor that would lead us down the wrong path. We believe they do not have the best interest of employees, workers and families in mind when they make decisions that seem to be more guided by fiscal realities than human realities.”

Zarifis said the union is encouraging teachers not to return to campus to teach when school in AISD starts Aug. 18 and is demanding that the district offer only online instruction over at least the first nine weeks of the year. The union also asked the district to provide weekly assessments about the state of the pandemic locally and to engage with teachers and the community about reopening using “sound, medical decisions,” he said.

Last week, AISD release preliminary plans for the school year, which includes options for parents to choose either 100% in-person or 100% online instruction for students. That aspect of the plan aligns with TEA guidelines requiring districts to provide daily on-campus attendance for students while also offering parents a chance to enroll students in virtual teaching instead.

“Our stance is that if the TEA says we’re going to do quality instruction online, then in-person is inappropriate because it will risk the health of our students, employees and teachers,” he said. “We must stay home. We will encourage teachers to stay home, stay online and teach.”

Karen Reyes, an early childhood and special education teacher in Austin ISD, said during the press conference that teachers would love to be able to return to the classroom and to interact with students, but not until it is a safe environment for everyone.

“All of the conversations [the district’s] having about schools reopening are not happening in person, and that should tell us we’re not ready for that step yet,” she said.

Middle school teacher Eric Ramos said that he does not believe it is realistic to expect students will wear masks for an entire in-person school day, as outlined in the TEA guidelines. Similarly, in-person instruction creates staffing, facility and transportation concerns, he said.

“We’ve seen the guidelines TEA put out recently, and while they look good in theory, our school are not equipped to follow a lot of these,” he said. “These guidelines tell us that teachers are expendable and not a resource [the state] cares about.”

If individuals are required to work on campus, Zarifis said the union will be asking AISD to give hero pay to those front-line workers. Similarly, if schools are kept closed, he said AISD should fulfill its obligations to pay staff, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, whose services may not be needed for the year.


The Texas Department of Transportation project on I-35 is now scheduled to be finished this winter. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Estimated completion of I-35 project near William Cannon Drive pushed back until winter

The project was initially expected to be finished this summer.

Dr. Molly Lopez is the director of the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health and also serves as a research associate professor at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin. (Designed by Stephanie Torres/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Mental health expert talks emotional well-being, building resiliency for the 2020-21 school year

According to Dr. Molly Lopez, director of the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health, the upcoming school year will serve as an opportunity for students, families, teachers and school administrators to learn skills in coping, re-evaulate mental health protocols and build resiliency in challenging times.

Jules Design Bar
TABC change opens window for some bars to qualify as restaurants under state pandemic orders

Following a new industry guideline recently distributed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, more bars across the state may soon be able to qualify as restaurants.

Here are the coronavirus updates to know today in Hays County. (Community Impact staff)
Dripping Springs woman is Hays County's 38th COVID-19 death

Hays County reported 2,673 active cases of the coronavirus and 126 hospitalizations related to the virus Aug. 13.

Bikers ride up Shoal Creek Boulevard in February. A bond proposal from Austin would fund additional bike lanes, sidewalk reconstruction, capital improvements and more. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin will send $460 million transportation bond to voters in November

The bond would fund include capital improvements to a number of projects, including the Longhorn Dam Bridge over Lady Bird Lake. The cost to the median Austin taxpayer would be about $77-$80 per year.

The future location on South Congress Avenue would be the third located in the South Austin area. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
P. Terry's plans for S. Congress drive-thru and more Austin-area news

Read the latest Austin-area business and community news.

Tesla announced its decision to bring its next gigafactory to Travis County on July 22. (Jay Jones/Community Impact Newspaper)
Tesla posts first gigafactory jobs as construction gets underway in Travis County

The company has 49 active listings for Austin-area jobs related to the gigafactory and other operations.

A police officer rides past protesters during the June 7 Justice for Them All March. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Police transformation begins in Austin as City Council approves millions in budget cuts, reinvestments, commitments

The move comes in response to a national and local reckoning over police brutality and the future of public safety.

Capital Metro's plan to build rail lines and expand its public transportation network, Project Connect, will head to voters in the city of Austin on Nov. 3. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Project Connect officially in the hands of Austin voters Nov. 3

Austin City Council took its final vote Aug. 13 on a plan to ask voters for approximately $3.85 billion in local revenue to expand the city's public transportation network.

Austin Regional Clinic location
Austin Regional Clinic now recruiting for coronavirus vaccine trial

Local health care provider Austin Regional Clinic will recruit 250 patients from the Austin area to participate in a late-phase clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine.

The future location on South Congress Avenue would be the third located in the South Austin area. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
P. Terry's submits plans for new S. Congress drive-thru

The future location would be the third located in the South Austin area.

(Courtesy AMC Theatres)
AMC Theatres to reopen Aug. 20 with 15-cent tickets

AMC Theatres—which has multiple locations in the Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas—will begin reopening its movie screens Aug. 20.