UPDATE: Teachers’ union granted temporary restraining order in lawsuit against Cy-Fair ISD

Teachers with Cy-Fair ISD spoke out against in-person professional development days at an Aug. 10 school board meeting. (Courtesy American Federation of Teachers Cy-Fair branch)
Teachers with Cy-Fair ISD spoke out against in-person professional development days at an Aug. 10 school board meeting. (Courtesy American Federation of Teachers Cy-Fair branch)

Teachers with Cy-Fair ISD spoke out against in-person professional development days at an Aug. 10 school board meeting. (Courtesy American Federation of Teachers Cy-Fair branch)

Updated on Aug. 14 at 10:30 p.m.

Officials with Cy-Fair American Federation of Teachers confirmed Friday night that a Harris County District Court judge granted the union a temporary restraining order.

The order stated that despite the district’s in-person professional development policy, teachers do not have to step foot on Cy-Fair ISD campuses before Sept. 7.

“This is a win for safety, health and common sense," Cy-Fair AFT President Nikki Cowart said in a press release. "It was unsafe to require teachers to come to school campuses for professional development and new teacher orientation—programs that can take place virtually,”

Officials also said a follow-up hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 28.

Original story posted Aug. 14 at 4:48 p.m.

Four days after the Cy-Fair branch of the American Federation of Teachers called on the Cy-Fair ISD school board to ease off upcoming plans for in-person professional development and allow teachers to tune in remotely, the federation filed a lawsuit against a district and is calling on a judge to intervene.

The suit, filed Aug. 14, said the three weeks of mandatory, in-person professional development days violate local health orders and put teachers at an unnecessary risk of being infected with the coronavirus.

"Our school district has ignored our pleas to reduce the number of school personnel required to be in school buildings because of a surging COVID-19 infection rate in the Houston area," Cy-Fair AFT President Nikki Cowart said in a statement. "What the district is doing could further spread the virus and contaminate our schools; we don’t want to be a part of that problem. Minimizing the number of employees at schools and worksites allows our community to slow the spread and get the virus under control.”

Cy-Fair ISD teachers are being required to attend the professional development days in person between Aug. 14 and Sept. 4. AFT members asked school board members to allow remote participation at an Aug. 10 school board meeting, but the district opted to keep in-person attendance mandatory.

In the lawsuit, the AFT cited a joint public health order issued by Dr. Umair Shah and Dr. David Persse, the public health authorities in Harris County and the city of Houston, respectively. The order requires schools to remain closed for on-campus, face-to-face instruction through Sept. 7, including all school-sponsored events and activities. More recently, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a road map for how to determine when schools are safe to reopen, adding it "won’t be safe anytime in the near future."

The lawsuit also cites agendas for the professional development days at five campuses where in-person group activities will allegedly be required, including Rowe, Aragon, Campbell and Anthony middle schools and Bane Elementary School.

In an unofficial copy of the lawsuit provided by the Harris County district clerk's office, the AFT calls for a temporary restraining order to immediately stop the district from requiring Cy-Fair AFT members to attend professional development days in person. The lawsuit also calls for a temporary injunction while the case is heard.

At past board meetings, CFISD officials have pointed out 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. At the Aug. 10 meeting, board President Bob Covey said the board is looking out for the health and safety of all CFISD employees and students, but defended the plans for professional development, drawing comparisons to other workplaces that have had to adapt to the coronavirus, including grocery stores, hospitals and restaurants.

This is a developing story and will be updated as new information becomes available. Cy-Fair ISD has been contacted for comment.
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.

By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.