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LETTER TO THE EDITOR — PAISD teachers should be able to work at home

As a concerned citizen of Port Arthur and career educator, I am concerned with the level of consideration regarding the overall safety of teachers and campus support staff in district planning for the 2020-21 school year.

After watching the June School Board meeting, which was held in-person despite the current pandemic, I was dismayed to witness the current superintendent, Dr. Mark Porterie, issue a statement that alluded to teachers being forced to decide between placing themselves in jeopardy by returning to in-person instruction or retire.

While the statement was public, it received no public rebuttal from any of the School Board members present. As elected officials, I was disappointed to see the silence that accompanied what could be considered as an act of intimidation to the very constituency these officials were elected to serve.

While probing the district website, I checked the “Frequently Asked Questions” page to educate myself on what stakeholder concerns were regarding COVID-19 and school re-openings and to see how they have been addressed by the district.

Upon further inspection of this page, I found that two questions, both regarding the role and input of teachers in classroom and district level planning, were given the exact same answer, as if it were simply copied and pasted from one question to the other.

This answer cited the “Initial Instructional Continuity Plan,” which I was also unable to locate on the district website. Although I appreciate that the district has since issued plans to institute remote instruction since these happenings, very little has been offered to the public to display how teachers and other support staff have been involved with the district planning process.

According to CDC guidelines regarding school re-opening, school districts are not only advised to provide options for telework and virtual learning, they are also advised to provide teachers and staff options as feasible to eliminate travel to schools.

Recently, I was made aware of the caveat to the PAISD remote instruction plan, which requires teachers to return to the school building. Being that virtual learning systems allow for instruction to be held in any location, I struggle to understand why this requirement exists.

There is no research that suggests teachers will perform more effectively as remote instructors while on campus, and the requirement itself defies the logic and reasoning behind the national implementation of remote instruction, which is to limit face-to-face interactions as much as possible during this pandemic.

Demographic statistics provided by the CDC confirmed that Black and Brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in the areas of infections and deaths. The most recent TEA TAPR report from 2018-19 lists that Memorial High School alone had 215.1 total staff.

The report also displays that black and brown teachers make up 64.4% of the teaching staff. While this number may have fluctuated since then, it seems dangerous to mandate that upwards of 100 people to be in any facility during this pandemic. Considering that most teachers and support staff would be in the population already identified as the most vulnerable by the CDC, opening multiple campuses across the district seems counter to the previously mentioned CDC guidance.

While the possibility of infection exists from teacher to teacher, the potential for teachers to bring an infection home to family members, who may also identify as vulnerable in the areas of demographics and pre-existing conditions.

The district has yet to identify how it will test teachers outside of daily temperature checks, which have been shown to be ineffective for those who are asymptomatic or have yet to display signs of infection. To mitigate this risk, and eliminate the potential for such a tragic occurrence, I implore the School Board members and Superintendent to allow teachers the flexibility to determine the site of their remote instruction.

As an educator, I cannot imagine being asked to perform at my best or be evaluated for my effectiveness while the mental and emotional strain of a potential COVID-19 infection weighs on my mind, not only at home, but at the workplace as well. Providing teachers the option to work from home not only empowers and protects them, it lowers the risk of infection to support staff required to maintain facilities during this pandemic.

While COVID-19 has provided a challenge to all institutions and levels of leadership, it is important that moral leadership continue to guide the actions of these institutions, particularly that of the school.

As the beacon of progress and uplift in the community, it is important that schools continue to not only demonstrate excellence in academics, but in social welfare and compassion as well.

— Joshua Rideaux, M.Ed., Port Arthur