Houston ISD teachers take sick day to protest COVID-19 protocols

Houston ISD
Houston ISD reported 90 COVID-19 cases on its online dashboard Oct. 22, which included 80 staff cases. HISD employs 27,195 people, according to the dashboard. (Community Impact staff)

Houston ISD reported 90 COVID-19 cases on its online dashboard Oct. 22, which included 80 staff cases. HISD employs 27,195 people, according to the dashboard. (Community Impact staff)

Dozens of teachers called in sick Oct. 22, days after Houston ISD campuses reopened for in-person learning.

The educators planned to be tested for COVID-19 after claiming Gov. Greg Abbott and HISD are not doing enough to keep them and students safe from the virus's spread, according to the group Educators for a Safe Reopening.

"Today's actions by teachers highlight the ongoing concerns teachers and school support personnel have as cases of the novel coronavirus spike again nationwide and reverse direction in Harris County," the organization said in a statement.

Schools reopened for face-to-face instruction Oct. 19 after weeks of virtual-only learning. Days later, several campuses closed again due to positive COVID-19 cases.

District officials responded Oct. 22 with a statement in response to the sick calls: "As the Houston Independent School District continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we remain focused on providing our students with a high-quality education while ensuring that the health, safety and well-being of both our students and staff are held to the highest standard. Face-to-face instruction will continue to occur with safety measures in place in accordance with guidelines provided by the CDC, state and local health authorities. The health, safety and well-being of our students and staff remains our top priority as we work to meet the educational needs of all families in the district."

HISD reported 90 COVID-19 cases on its online dashboard Oct. 22, which included 80 staff cases. HISD employs 27,195, according to the dashboard.

Educators for a Safe Reopening has made seven demands for a safe reopening:

  1. Six feet of social distancing is required: Class sizes are limited and capped at 15. Schools that cannot follow these social distancing guidelines must provide additional personnel to divide and monitor overflow students in a separate location/room.

  2. Meals should be consumed outside or in a large, open, well-ventilated area. Students should not eat meals in classrooms as they will not be wearing masks, nor should anyone—teachers or support personnel—be required to monitor a classroom full of students eating without masks.

  3. Staff with pending Americans with Disabilities Act/Family and Medical Leave Act applications should not be required to return to work in person until ADA/FMLA is approved or denied. HISD must provide a clear process for appeal if denied ADA/FMLA. Data on denial percentages must be public.

  4. All classrooms must have an optimized HVAC system and a plan to optimize air circulation/filtration. Campuses must have a distribution plan for supplies and a defined plan for weekly replenishment.

  5. The district must include an addendum of the student/staff codes of conduct for PPE/mask policies and disciplinary procedures for safety infractions for students and staff. Refusal to agree to this will equal the student returning to virtual instruction.

  6. Quarantine should be for the entire campus if anyone on the campus contracts COVID-19 due to the airborne transmission of COVID-19. The district and campus must immediately communicate information about all probable and positive cases to all staff and parents at that school. Schools who are under quarantine must be made public.

  7. No teachers or staff who resign should receive TEA sanctions during the 2020-21 school year. Primary protections should be provided to those who are denied ADA and FMLA applications who are then forced into resignation.

The group said multiple attempts were made to talk to HISD administrators about concerns, but safety protocols have not been consistent across the district's campuses.

The district said this week that changes were made after the Oct. 19 reopening. Instead of closing a campus after one presumptive positive case of COVID-19, it will now close when there are two or more cases.

HISD changed cleaning procedures at schools and contracted with two commercial cleaning companies to deep-clean campuses when needed, according to HISD's website.

This article was edited from a version originally published by Community Impact Newspaper media partner ABC13.
By ABC13
A Community Impact Newspaper media partner