Cy-Fair ISD officials respond to teacher concerns at Aug. 6 board meeting

Several Cy-Fair ISD teachers spoke before the board about their concerns with reopening schools this fall at the board's Aug. 6 meeting. (Courtesy Cy-Fair AFT)
Several Cy-Fair ISD teachers spoke before the board about their concerns with reopening schools this fall at the board's Aug. 6 meeting. (Courtesy Cy-Fair AFT)

Several Cy-Fair ISD teachers spoke before the board about their concerns with reopening schools this fall at the board's Aug. 6 meeting. (Courtesy Cy-Fair AFT)

Several Cy-Fair ISD educators spoke before the board of trustees Aug. 6—nearly a month before the 2020-21 school year is slated to begin—to express their concerns with the district’s reopening plan in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Common themes in these remarks included teachers asking for the option to work remotely in the fall, as at least 43% of students are expected to learn virtually, and the lack of opportunities to share their feedback with district officials. Others shared their personal fears of contracting the virus while dealing with various health conditions and putting their family members at risk.

Teachers are expected to return to campuses as early as Aug. 14 for professional development, which is slated to run through Sept. 4. These sessions will be presented virtually, but multiple teachers who spoke said they are expected to report to campus and watch sessions from their classrooms.

Educator concerns

Being in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy and having underlying health conditions herself, CFISD teacher Mackenna Coffey said she does not feel safe returning to campus. She asked the board and administration to consider allowing staff to participate in remote professional development and to have the ability to work remotely this school year.

Coffey added that with only three teachers participating in the district’s reopening committee, she feels the voices of CFISD teachers as a whole have not been heard.

“I’ve called HR and provided letters from my doctors asking for accommodations,” she said. “I’ve been told that I can take leave or resign. Both options leave our schools looking for someone else to fill in. We will not stand by and lose colleagues due to lack of safety precautions, accommodations and the opportunity to advocate for ourselves.”

In a survey of 210 CFISD educators published in the July/August newsletter from the Cy-Fair chapter of the Texas State Teachers Association, 95% of respondents said teachers should have the choice to work in person or online, and 89% said they do not feel safe teaching in person.

The organization’s president, Donna Lord, who also is a CFISD middle school teacher, asked administrators and board members at the Aug. 6 meeting to be transparent when making decisions that will affect thousands of teachers in September.

“Many decisions have been made by the district reopening committee and shared with ... various members of the community—but not with the teachers,” she said. “Teachers are hearing specific information from non-official sources about how our classrooms will run, yet most of our principals have not communicated with their staff.”

Jennifer Freestone, a CFISD high school teacher, said that because students have the opportunity to learn virtually, teachers should have that same option.

In some districts, such as Humble ISD, teachers can choose to do their job virtually for personal or medical reasons.

“By giving the parents the option of sending their children to school, you make it sound as if you can protect them,” Freestone said. “However, do the parents know that at some schools, students will be packed into classrooms so tightly that they will only be 3 feet apart and not the recommended 6 feet?”

District response

Despite the many concerns shared at the board meeting, Superintendent Mark Henry commended the board for their decisions made in recent months.

“As we prepare to open, we continue to collaborate with the county health officials; we continue to collaborate with state health officials,” Henry said. “As I’ve said, the education of our students is the No. 1 goal we have, closely followed—if not equal to—the safety of our students and the safety of our staff.”

Multiple teachers Aug. 6 claimed when they brought their personal health concerns before the district's human resources department, they were given two options: Take an unpaid leave of absence or resign.

CFISD General Counsel Marney Collins Sims said the district has always had a process in place where employees can ask for reasonable accommodations if they have medical conditions that put them at risk on the job.

“Any employee who, you might have a condition that in a typical situation—maybe during flu season, you’re a little more vulnerable, or you may need to ask for an accommodation of maybe not doing hall duty or something like that,” she said. “Where now, in this situation, it’s exacerbated, clearly, then that would be the interactive process.”

While more district officials, including principals and human resources department members, are being trained on this process in preparation for more accommodations needed in the fall, Collins Sims said the district does not plan to survey all employees asking for medical information.

Chairita Franklin, CFISD’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said once campus principals analyze data from parents indicating whether their children will be taking in-person classes, they can determine how many exclusively virtual, exclusively face-to-face or hybrid teachers are needed. She said teachers with medical concerns should contact their principals directly.

“Now, there are some accommodations that people are wanting in terms of being able to solely work from their home,” Franklin said. “We are delivering instruction from our campuses, and so we’re communicating that.”
By Danica Lloyd

Editor, Cy-Fair

Danica joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in 2016. As editor, she continues to cover local government, education, health care, real estate, development, business and transportation in Cy-Fair. Her experience prior to CI includes studying at the Washington Journalism Center and interning at a startup incubator in D.C., serving as editor-in-chief of Union University's student magazine and online newspaper, reporting for The Jackson Sun and freelancing for other publications in Arkansas and Tennessee.