Special education teacher Sheri Fricke called the plan to open schools despite the spread of the coronavirus a gamble. She recently had surgery to treat lung cancer and is worried about the risks she faces.
“One life cut short is one life too many when you have other choices you can make to protect the people of this community,” she said. “In my opinion, literally putting our lives in jeopardy—especially those who are high risk, such as mine—is not justified for reasons such as funding or political issue.”
The Cy-Fair American Federation of Teachers, the local teachers union, sent a letter to Superintendent Mark Henry and board President Bob Covey, asking to reconsider the mandatory on-campus professional development scheduled for Aug. 14-Sept. 4.
“If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 at one or more campuses as a result of the PD meetings, the official start of school for students is put in danger of being moved because of the lack of healthy teachers to start school,” the letter reads.
On-campus activities have taken place in recent months with added safety precautions, but the district has not avoided COVID-19 completely. CFISD Athletic Director Ray Zepeda told the board Aug. 6, for instance, that 20-30 cases districtwide were discovered during strength and conditioning camps this summer.
On July 21, the board voted to delay the start of the school year until Sept. 8, and parents have the option to send their children back to campuses or have them learn remotely. As of Aug. 6, 34% of students are expected to return for in-person classes, while 43% have opted for virtual learning. The district will have finalized data by the end of the month.
While students have this option, all CFISD teachers are expected to work from their classrooms this fall even if they are teaching exclusively virtual classes. Many teachers with existing health conditions have expressed concern over this plan and asked for the option to work remotely.
Sherry Frank, who has 27 years of teaching experience and currently is the theater director at Cypress Falls High School, spoke to the board about the potential consequences of returning to a “dangerous work environment.”
“I can get shot, and I can slip on a coat hanger, and I’m covered by workers' comp, but not if I get COVID-19 and get sick and/or die,” she said.
District officials have noted at prior meetings that employees affected by COVID-19 can take advantage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides up to 10 days of paid sick leave.
While Henry was in attendance Aug. 10, he did not speak during the meeting. At the Aug. 6 meeting, he applauded the board’s decision-making thus far and said keeping students and staff safe was a top priority.
Several board members, however, responded to teachers’ concerns during the board comment period, but no action was taken to change plans for professional development or instruction in the coming weeks.
Covey said he has five grandchildren enrolled in CFISD—two of which will learn from home during the first grading period and three of which are planning to return to campuses. He said the board is looking out for the health and safety of all CFISD employees and students, but education is not the only industry dealing with workplace changes in the midst of the pandemic.
“I look at people who are having to work in grocery stores, hardware stores, hospitals, restaurants. ... They are working in similar conditions of being around many, many people who may or may not be practicing social distancing,” Covey said. “Can all of you that are against this returning to teaching tell me that you have not been in one of those facilities since March of 2020?”