Since March, teachers and students have been quarantined at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hours of zoom meetings and blend notifications later, teachers are now returning to school. According to the Statesman, AISD is the largest district in central Texas, with more than 80,000 students, and is among the last to reopen. Opening at 25% capacity, students have the option to stay home while teachers are expected to come to school unless they have been exempted. According to Kvue, of the 925 teachers that applied for a medical exemption or accommodation, only 54% were approved. The medical waiver only applied to teachers at a high-risk medically and did not extend to high risk family members.
“I am scared to go back because I feel like our concerns haven’t been adequately addressed.” Jake Morgan, a English and Language arts teacher at Bowie said, “I think there are many teachers, including myself, that have people at home that we are worried about. I feel like there are many times we have vocalized our concerns and they have been pushed away.”
Sunday, October fourth, Ann Richards seniors organized a protest at the AISD Headquarters that included teachers and students from all over the city. The protest was to express concerns regarding teachers going back to school that following Monday. This protest followed similar ones held by teachers in previous weeks, but this one emphasized student concerns over those of their teachers.
“When I heard that my teachers didn’t have a choice to come back, I was really angry because everyone has different situations with their family and the district wasn’t listening to their opinions.” Lizbeth Fraustos (12) said, “I was very upset so I wanted to come here and share my voice about it.”
Since a majority of students are not returning to school, concerns have been raised over why 100% of teachers were asked to come back to the school. For some students, they feel like it is their responsibility to support their teachers after years of staff caring for them in the classroom.
“As a student we have so many teachers looking over us, teachers teach us more than school, they teach us life lessons.” Guadalupe Gonzalez-Torres (12) said, “and seeing them scared to do something they love makes me really upset, especially since I have a choice and they don’t. And with the amount of people that are going back, it is not necessary for 100% of teachers going to school.”
The actions of teachers and students gained attention from Education Austin, the employee union and official consultation agency for AISD employees that works to address and promote employee rights. However, now students are raising their own voices and taking a stand for returning teachers.
“We talk about freedom of speech in this country yet if we don’t exercise it, then that right is of no value.” Ken Zarifis, President of Education Austin said, “ What you’ve (the student protesters) done today is that you’ve demonstrated that your teachers have helped you understand social activism, and then you’ve found your own power to then put that into action. That is education. Yeah, maybe it’s not in the TEKS or the objective but this is the real world education.”
As of October 10th, teachers and staff have spent their first week back at school. AISD leaders are planning on moving ahead with continuing in-person learning at 25% capacity in the following months. According to the Statesmen though, three Austin-area districts have already had positive Covid-19 cases with students or staff in this first week. Although teachers have already returned back, concerns regarding teacher safety are far from quelled.