As school districts make plans for how to deliver instruction to students in the fall, the Texas American Federation of Teachers is asking district leadership to include teachers in the conversation.

“We're continuing to push on and encourage local school board presidents and superintendents to ensure that they are activating their teacher core and stakeholder core in their districts to get these decisions right,” Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said in a June 24 press conference with reporters. “They’re going to be the ones that know how to best adapt and meet the needs of their kids."

Capo said he is "dismayed the state has punted their responsibility for providing guidance" to districts. Yesterday, the Texas Education Agency announced school districts are required to offer some form of on-campus instruction, but remote learning can still be an option.

Capo said the AFT's plan for reopening schools includes recommendations for social distancing; testing, tracing and isolating cases; using masks to avoid spreading the virus; involving workers, unions, and parents in the planning process; and investing in public health in schools.

Additionally, in a June 23 statement the Texas State Teachers Association asked the TEA to mandate students, district staff and visitors wear masks while at school. Currently, mask wearing is a recommendation—not a requirement—under the TEA’s guidelines.

“I'll be honest, right now I have a healthy sense of skepticism about reopening school buildings in August,” Capo said. “The state has given little guidance and left us with more questions than answers. Individual school districts now have to rely on putting together a plan that works for their community based on their trajectory of COVID cases and their ability to provide a safe and healthy environment. It can be done, but it must be done with safety and health as the most important factors.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten, who was also on the teleconference June 24, said they estimate it will take $116 billion nationally to have all of the resources—school nurses, counselors, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and more—needed to reopen safely.

“We don't get what is going on in Texas. ... There's like blinders on about what's going on in terms of public health and science,” Weingarten said. “So I'm just reiterating as clearly as I possibly can that this is going to take money, collaboration and following the science if we are going to be able to open schools in-person safely for our kids.”

Capo said the school year cannot start without better planning, including what form online learning takes and how to best utilize teachers’ time and talents to serve students who need the most support.

Moving forward, Capo said Texas AFT is continuing to ask the TEA and Gov. Greg Abbott to require school districts to submit comprehensive safety plans and release federal funding already allocated for education.

He is also asking the state to waive the timeline requirement for teachers to decide whether they want to renew their employment contract until their district announces plans for next year. He said he has spoken to teachers who are either taking an early retirement or temporarily walking away from the profession because of health and safety concerns.

“The last thing we want to do is penalize our teachers that are trying to hang on and trying to wait for those that are empowered to make decisions so that they can decide what's best for them and their family,” Capo said. “That’s the least the governor’s office could do to mitigate the situation for our educators.”