As over 1,000 teachers pledge to stay home Oct. 5, Education Austin optimistic for resolution between union, Austin ISD

Remote instruction began at Austin ISD on Sept. 8, three weeks later than scheduled after the school district's board of trustees delayed the start of the school year as a safety precaution. In-person learning is scheduled to begin Oct. 5. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Remote instruction began at Austin ISD on Sept. 8, three weeks later than scheduled after the school district's board of trustees delayed the start of the school year as a safety precaution. In-person learning is scheduled to begin Oct. 5. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)

Remote instruction began at Austin ISD on Sept. 8, three weeks later than scheduled after the school district's board of trustees delayed the start of the school year as a safety precaution. In-person learning is scheduled to begin Oct. 5. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis said Oct. 2 that more than 1,000 Austin ISD teachers are prepared to stay home when in-person learning begins in Oct. 5, despite district plans that would require most teachers to return to the classroom.

However, the Austin employees union and the district continue to meet in an attempt to negotiate a back-to-campus plan on which both sides can agree.

“The district is returning to the table to negotiate, and we think that that's a very positive step,” Zarifis told Community Impact Newspaper.

The two sides met Oct. 1, and Zarifis is scheduled to meet with Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 2, a meeting that has been confirmed by AISD.

“After the meeting this afternoon, we'll have more information, but [Education Austin is] very hopeful that the district moves to a position that respects staff that are fearful of coming in, and that the people that do come in are on a volunteer basis,” Zarifis said.

Education Austin—the union that represents over 3,000 AISD staff members—has called since the summer for AISD to not offer any in-person instruction this semester. Zarifis said the best way to keep teachers and students safe is by keeping them home and that allowing some teachers to return on a volunteer basis would be a compromise to those initial demands.

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim public health authority, said Sept. 28 that he approves of the district’s current back-to-school plan, one that Austin Public Health has been working with AISD through the summer to help develop.

Currently, the district is asking teachers to return to campus and will be opening school up to 25% of their capacities Oct. 5. In the classroom, teachers will continue to conduct lessons virtually for those students who are still at home as other students follow along on their devices from the classroom. More information about the district's plan can be found here.

Teachers who are immunocompromised were given the opportunity to request to continue working from home. AISD is still in the process of reviewing some of those waiver applications. Under the current plan, however, teachers for whom a waiver is not approved will be required to return to class.

According to the district, about 30% of parents have asked to enroll their child in in-person learning, while 70% have opted to remain home to learn online. That number has varied depending on grade level, with more requests for in-person teaching in elementary schools than in middle or high schools.

“We believe that it'll be a very manageable number [of students who return to school Oct. 5] that a volunteer teaching force could manage,” Zarifis said. “Those who don't want to go back won't have to go back, and then, we'll see how to integrate more students and teachers over the course of two to four weeks after Monday."

With less than three days until in-person learning is set to begin in the district, the roll out of any changes to AISD’s current plan could be difficult to communicate to teachers and families. However, Zarifis said a change may be the safest way to reopen.

“It is the 11th hour, and it's unfortunate we're down to that, but it's better than it being Monday,” he said. “We're in a much better position than we were three days ago, and we are appreciative that Dr. Elizalde has really reached out to genuinely engage with us.”

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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