Students returning to school in the fall may need to be re-evaluated, union president says

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Leaders with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and presidents of Texas AFT believe the safest and most effective way to reopen schools require two types of federal action: addressing budget cuts and federal funding to pay for the cost of reopening schools during the pandemic.

The President of the Houston teachers' union, Zeph Capo, is signaling caution about the idea of kids going back to school in the fall. He said it might need to be re-evaluated by those in power.

His concern for a re-evaluation came after Gov. Greg Abbott announced last Thursday that students will return to school for in-person learning and would not be subject to health screenings or required to wear masks.

Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency was set to announce guidance for Texas public school districts to reopen, but canceled for the second time in two weeks.

"Frankly, the state is out of time to give guidance. The districts have no choice but to move forward and make those decisions because the clock continues to run," Capo said in a teleconference Wednesday morning.

Capo said he is sending a letter to the governor's office, asking to give teachers more time to decide if they want to return to teaching in the fall or retire without penalty of breaking their contract.

Candis Houston, the president of Aldine Federation of Teachers and a former teacher herself, said it's time for school administrators to take action and make a decision before time runs out.

"You must be able to provide a plan," Houston said. "Yes, this is unchartered territories but come on, come out with a plan because it's needed. People need to be able to do what is best. Parents need to be able to do what's best."

Elizabeth Baker is a Katy ISD mother, and her daughter Charlotte will be going into second grade in the fall. Baker said she's not convinced it's safe to send her children back to campus during this pandemic.

"I'm excited and nervous at the same time," said Charlotte Baker, Elizabeth's 7-year-old daughter.

Zelda Morgan is a career technology teacher for Aldine ISD and a cancer survivor. She said shortly after schools shut down in March, she and her husband both tested positive for COVID-19.

"It's a real issue for my household because I particularly didn't have it as bad as him but he stayed in the hospital for over a month and then he had to go to rehab. Now he's in physical therapy and he's suffering from PTSD," Morgan said. "You do have teachers out there right now who are saying, I don't care what happens, I'm not going back there until we have a vaccine."

Morgan said she plans on returning back to school, knowing the safety risks, but plans to do what she can for herself and her students. She believes teachers will need extra time between classes to sanitize the room and clean desks.

"There's no requirement that they must be tested. There's no requirements so now you have teachers that are going to be in the classroom 90 minutes with kids and you have to close the doors," Morgan said. "What does that really look like?"

This week, the TEA did release information about personal protective equipment for districts and said it was being distributed but noted that schools were not required to use it.

For more on what the American Federation of Teachers believes it will take to reopen schools safely, click here.

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