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Public School Teachers Around the State Report COVID-19 Safety Violations

Unmasking what's actually going on in the schools.
Unmasking what's actually going on in the schools.
Photo by Margaret Downing

A survey by the Texas State Teachers Association reports hundreds of COVID-19 safety violations. Leading the way in the number of complaints in the Houston area is the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD.

After just two weeks, districts that opened for in-person classes showed a wide variance in how they are complying with pandemic safety guidelines. Of most concern were what TSTA President Ovidia Molina called "inadequate accommodations for high-risk employees or those with high-risk dependents at home."

The survey results came from 664 TSTA members from 135 districts around the state so while this clearly isn't a comprehensive study of all the more than 327,000 teachers in public schools in Texas, it is an early indicator that there is some disconnect between preaching and carrying out best practices.

In Cy-Fair where its chapter of the American Federation of Teachers union sued unsuccessfully in August to stop the in-person re-opening of the schools, 26 teachers said there was inadequate protective supplies (masks, face shields, plexiglass, ventilation, etc.). Twenty-five teachers cited insufficient accommodations for teachers and their relatives. Twenty three teachers said there was inadequate classroom social distancing.

Other areas covered by the survey included: non-compliance with mask mandates, inadequate ventilation or ventilation equipment, inadequate access to cleaning/sanitation supplies, lack of school quarantine space or process, inadequate or inequitable availability of distance learning resources or support for students, inadequate district sick leave policies, inadequate mitigation policies for lunch or transportation, lack of health/safety policy enforcement and insufficient staffing for new measures and protocols. Between 12 and 19 teachers in Cy-Fair  responded yes to each of those concerns.

The other Harris County districts responding to the survey were Alief, Clear Creek, Conroe, Humble, Klein and Pasadena with Alief and Pasadena recording the next highest levels of negative answers. Houston ISD was not included because TSTA doesn't have many members in that district and didn't receive many responses.

“Districts are telling employees to self-screen for COVID symptoms but then establishing personnel policies and practices that discourage employees from being rigorous about it. This is very bad policy that ignores the reality of this health crisis,” Molina said.

“Districts are telling employees to self-screen for COVID symptoms but then establishing personnel policies and practices that discourage employees from being rigorous about it. This is very bad policy that ignores the reality of this health crisis.”

She added: “All these issues reinforce TSTA’s warnings. The state of Texas has been in too big a hurry to reopen school buildings. Texas isn’t back to normal yet, and no amount of premature school openings is going to change that. We hope we haven’t prolonged the day when we can think about being normal again.”

Here are the numbers of violations of safety issues reported by TSTA members:

Non-compliance with mask mandate: 246
Inadequate classroom social distancing: 385
Inadequate ventilation or ventilation equipment: 401
Inadequate protective supplies (masks, etc.): 357
Inadequate access to cleaning/sanitation supplies: 243
Insufficient accommodations for high-risk school employees or family members: 435
Lack of school quarantine space or process: 247
Inadequate or inequitable availability of distance-learning resources for students: 238
Inadequate district sick leave policies: 337
Inadequate mitigation policies for lunch or transportation: 255
Lack of health/safety policy enforcement: 268
Insufficient staffing for new measures and protocols: 370

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