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Houston teachers union wants virtual start to school year until coronavirus numbers drop

HOUSTON – The union representing Houston teachers is calling for a virtual start to the school year until the number of new coronavirus cases drop.

Members of both the Houston Federation of Teachers and Houston Educational Support Personnel spoke Monday, calling on leaders of the Houston Independent School District and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to do more to ensure the safety of students, teachers and staff.

“The new school year is supposed to start in six weeks, and the Houston Independent School District is in no way, shape or form prepared,” said Andy Dewey, executive vice president of HFT.

Dewey said he believes the return of students to the classroom should be done in a gradual, phased approach that gives priority to vulnerable and special needs students.

The union laid out the following recommendations:

  1. Open schools with virtual learning until the number of new cases declines for at least 14 consecutive days in Harris County and a comprehensive plan is in place.
  2. Include all stakeholders in any plan to restart schooling, through a task force that includes youth, families, educators, support personnel, union leaders and community partners.
  3. Establish infrastructure and funding to test, trace and isolate new cases with same-day results.
  4. Close nonessential businesses to flatten the curve, so that children have a chance of face-to-face instruction sooner rather than later.
  5. Fund schools based on enrollment instead of on average daily attendance for the duration of the pandemic.
  6. Develop plans consistent with CDC guidance for daily sanitation, disinfection and physical distancing.
  7. Ensure a massive investment in public schools, including the release of CARES Act funds to school districts.
  8. Integrate racial and economic justice equity assessments into all reopening plans. We must return to a new and better normal, not to the pre-COVID-19 status quo that failed too many students and families.
  9. Suspend high-stakes testing. This means no STAAR, no benchmarks and no universal screener. Teachers will formatively assess their own students.
  10. Provide professional development to include social-emotional learning, as affected by COVID19 and other related issues, and teacher training to improve and personalize online curriculum.

More about each of the recommendations can be found at AFT.org.

Dewey said he expects the typical start-of-school-year teacher shortage to be higher than normal because some teachers will opt not to return to classes in order to protect their own health.

Wretha Thomas, president of HESP, echoed the sentiment for bus drivers, saying most of HISD’s bus drivers are senior citizens who suffer from health problems. She said most of them will likely decide that returning to work is not worth risking their lives.

“They talking about putting 65 kids on a bus with the windows down to transport the kids,” Thomas said. “That’s suicide. That’s just setting our drivers and our kids up for a disaster.”

Thomas said she believes more buses will need to be put on the road in order to allow for increased social distancing on board. She said schools need more custodial staff in order to ensure the facilities are kept as sanitary is possible.

Leaders at HISD are scheduled to release the district’s official back-to-school plan on Wednesday.

You can watch a replay of the union’s news conference below.

Houston teachers union discusses reopening schools

The Houston teachers union is discussing recommendations for reopening schools.

Posted by KPRC2 / Click2Houston on Monday, July 13, 2020

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