Health & Science

Local Schools Aren’t Helping Staffers Deal With Coronavirus, Unions Say

Union leaders said the area districts need to better prepare its staff for the possibility of community spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Houston Federation of Teachers building on Sutherland St. Taken on March 9, 2020.

Union leaders on Monday said local school districts haven’t done enough to prepare teachers and staff for the spread of the coronavirus, and called on the districts to form a more robust policy.

Representatives from the Houston and Fort Bend independent school districts, along with leaders from Houston Education Support Personnel and other unions, said the area districts need to better prepare its staff for the possibility of community spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

While the virus is contained locally to just a group of people who have traveled to Egypt, union leaders Monday argued now is the right time to better equip all necessary faculty with the tools they need to safely combat the virus, should it enter a Houston area district school.

"We have custodians working at nighttime with no gloves, we have some without any protective measures,” said Wretha Thomas, president of the Houston Education Support Personnel. “Everybody needs to be protected and trained to deal with this virus.”

Thomas said the union is asking for a better plan to make sure all bathrooms, buses and other public areas students access are disinfected.

HISD schools will go on spring break next week, but some school districts, like Aldine ISD, are already off. Union leaders on Monday questioned if there will be a plan for those students who traveled oversea during the break.

"I would like to see the district have a plan together when we return Monday to address any staff and students that traveled,” said Candis Houston, Aldine Federation of Teachers president. “We may have an outbreak from wherever they traveled.”

Houston ISD did not respond to a request about specific staff policy for COVID-19. Fort Bend ISD, which is also on spring break, could not be reached for comment.

So far every case in the Houston area — which includes people in Houston, the unincorporated section of northwest Harris County, and Fort Bend County — was acquired on an Egyptian cruise, and there is no evidence of community spread.

Multiple districts have asked employees to let them know if they were leaving the country. Fort Bend County students are being given absence exemptions if they traveled to an at-risk country during the break, which means parents have the option to keep their kids home, and students would not be penalized for their absence.

But teachers were told they would have to use sick time to stay home, said Glenda Macal, president of the Fort Bend Federation of Teachers. And teachers being paid hourly, or who don’t have sick leave, would be required to miss time with no pay.

Union leaders are asking the school districts to formulate a plan that would address those issues.

"Those teachers who want to do the right thing won't be able to,” Macal said. “Do I personally effect my resources for my family, or do I have the public's health in mind? I have to pick one. And that's just not fair to our teachers, and it's not fair to our students or the public.”

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