Dozens of San Marcos teachers ask school board for work from home option this fall

More than fifty teachers in San Marcos have signed a letter to the San Marcos Consolidated ISD school board asking for a policy to allow those with safety concerns to work from home this Fall. 

Teachers there are currently scheduled to begin virtual classrooms in September with in-person learning scheduled for October 5th. 

“The possibility of returning face to face at all, when you're living in a hot spot, is really daunting,” said Keren Jackson, who teaches English at San Marcos High School. 

Though she realizes in-person learning has to be available for many students, Jackson and 52 other teachers agree there need to be exceptions for teachers who fit certain criteria. 

That’s why they signed a letter to the school board asking for a policy allowing those exceptions. 

The proposed exceptions would allow teachers to work from home if they have underlying health conditions on the CDC's comorbidity list, live with someone with those conditions, are pregnant or have an infant at home or have children under 12 years old whose daycare has been closed or has reduced hours. 

“I teach second grade, I can tell you, my second graders are going to struggle a lot with social distancing and mask-wearing. All they want to do is get together and read to each other and it's a very difficult world for them to navigate successfully... And I definitely don't want to risk getting sick, because I suffer from severe asthma and I need medications to maintain it,” said Oli Ponce-McGlaughlin, who teaches at DeZavala Elementary.

“If our jobs can be done at home, then we should be at home. Some people cannot do their job at home, Wi-Fi issues or they don't have a private office to work from, and they may choose to go into the building and it is really nice that we have that option, but that's not everybody's situation. That's why we need a flexible policy,” Jackson said. 




Teachers who signed the letter said they were told they could request to work from home if they are considered high risk for COVID-19.

“The responses that we received from the Human Resources department didn't really answer our questions and very few people, if any, I don't know of any who actually received an accommodation based on being high risk for COVID-19,” said Jackson. 

Trustee Anne Halsey said responding to COVID has been a struggle, but the school board has done everything possible to keep students connected for the past several months. Halsey has three children in San Marcos schools herself, and she says the earliest she would have them return to the classroom is the November grading period. 

“I share the teacher’s concerns, I hear their worries. And I tend to think that the fewer people that we can have in any enclosed spaces on our campuses, the better it is for everybody, right? For the people whose jobs are site specific, who have to be on campus, the fewer people in those buildings, it's safer for them,” Halsey said. 

Other board members sent statements about the teacher’s requests.

Board President Clementine Cantu writes, “The District is sympathetic to the anxiety of all personnel on the reopening of schools. However, the District will ensure that all safety protocols are strictly adhered to as recommended by the Texas Education Agency in their planning guidance, which mandates that teaching and learning continue with appropriate safety measures. In addition to remote learning measures to avoid direct contact between teachers and students, the District will also ensure that teachers are isolated in their classroom and that social distancing is practiced in all respects.” 

Trustee Miguel Arredondo writes, “The idea that we can safely reopen our schools and not, in fact, worsen the spread of COVID-19 in our community is not based on science, it’s based on wishful thinking. The San Marcos CISD must protect more than just our students and teachers. We must prioritize the health and well-being of custodial staff, child nutrition employees, office staff, and transportation professionals. This means limiting the number of individuals on our campuses and providing our employees the flexibility to work from home if possible. I do not support requiring all employees to return to work in-person because it puts our staff and community at a greater risk of catching this fatal virus.”

John McGlothlin, vice president of the board, writes, "The school board empowered the administration to make a plan for safely reopening our schools which prioritized the health of our students and faculty and the education of our students.  Within that discretion, the superintendent and his administration proposed a plan which when adopted had the latest start date of in-person instruction in Central Texas -- October 5th.  Remote instruction will take place from September 8th until October 5th.  Teachers who do not have a medical condition that increases the health risks associated with Covid-19 are to teach from their empty classrooms by video to the students who will be at home because the administration determined teaching from the classroom would provide stability and normalcy and therefore would be the most effective means of effectively delivering the curriculum.  Those who were not approved for a work from home accommodation by human resources are able to work out alternate arrangements by agreement with their campus principal.  Less than 10% of our teachers have signed onto a letter asking the Board to overrule the superintendent, but many of them never applied for accommodation or sought to work something out with their campus principal.  Instead, in a time when the administration is navigating unprecedented challenges, they went outside the system and went to the media.

It is not the Board's role to replace the judgment of our administration with our own judgment on matters related to effective curriculum delivery.  If we do not trust the administration we hired to make decisions we hired them to make, we should replace the administration, but it is not our place to do their job the way we think it should be done because only a couple of us on the school board have any professional experience in school administration or even education.  If I personally thought it was unsafe for a teacher without any medical condition that increases the health risks associated with Covid-19 to teach from an empty classroom, I would raise this issue with the superintendent and work to make modifications in the plan.  But here, being alone in a 400 square foot room is not a serious health risk.  The teachers returning to the workplace are simply in the same place as anyone else who has returned to work and is in a safer space than most, including all of our hourly employees.  I understand for many this is really about childcare, but that is a problem all of us who have returned to work are having to navigate, and the best solution for that isn't to do our job in a less effective way, but rather to get schools reopened for in-person instruction just as soon as it is safe."



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