AUSTIN, Texas - Getting kids back in the classroom is a priority for state leaders, but on Wednesday during a Zoom news conference, leaders with Education Austin described the plan as dangerous.
"That is a recipe for destruction we know that teachers, employees, and students will get sick,” said Education Austin President Ken Zarifis.
The group has launched a petition drive demanding administrators with Austin ISD to cancel the August 18th start date. Beginning on that date, they want a nine-week period to monitor the viral outbreak. "We want to see, not just the weekly decrease, but trends of decrease before we even consider coming back,” said Zarifis.
Teachers and support staff on the Zoom conference said over and over again they do not believe schools can be made safe from COVID-19.
“I am dying to go back, but I’m not willing to die to go back,” said kindergarten teacher Carmela Valdez.
“We are not considered essential workers, but we don’t want to be considered disposable, either,” said special education teacher Eleanore Harris.
Get breaking news alerts in the FOX 7 Austin News app. It is FREE!
"They should have been focusing this whole time on getting their online learning together,” said teacher assistant Emily Sharin.
Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday on FOX 7 distance learning will continue to be an option for school districts, and kids could opt out from showing up in person. "Parents do have the ultimate say,” he said.
In a statement sent to FOX 7 Austin, AISD officials said:
"As we prepare for the new school year, we're planning for both on-campus and at-home learning. In doing this, we'll keep developing and improving efforts to keep our staff safe and students safe."
However, doubts persist, like how to handle masks. "I don’t how much any of you have tried to get a 6th, 7th or 8th grader to do something, for almost 8 hours a day, but good luck trying to keep their masks on and stay away from people for 8 hours a day,” said middle school teacher Eric Ramos.
Valdez is worried the challenges with masks will only increase as the age of the student decreases. “If you think it’s hard to keep a mask on a middle schooler try putting it on a 5-year-old,” she said.
Riding a school bus is another concern. “They are going to be at the bus stop, they are going to get on the bus, so whatever they bring to the bus is going to infect the whole bus,” said bus driver Lisa Pannell.
Union leaders say as long as the TEA HQ in downtown Austin is not fully reopened, schools should not reopen. They also want everyone to continue getting paid hazard pay for those who do return and called threats to defund districts that do not start back up as blackmail.
"We will be damned if he takes it from us,” said Zarifis.
Union leaders also said the guideline set by the TEA commissioner and the governor is racist. They backed up that accusation pointing to studies that indicate minority groups are hit hard by the virus. The union leaders believe forcing people of color back to school is a racist act.
FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.