SAN ANTONIO — As the city sees a surge of novel coronavirus cases, all but one of Bexar County's three largest school districts have said they will require teachers to report to campus at the start of the school year—even though county schools are prohibited from in-person instruction through Sept. 7.
Northside and North East independent school districts confirmed Monday that educators will be expected to conduct their virtual lessons at their respective campuses, instead of at home as they had done prior to the pandemic. Meanwhie, admiministrators with San Antonio Independent School District said leaders are still weighing options.
The decision from the other two districts has drawn disapproval from the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, SAISD's union.
"The decision to reopen schools is going to have a profound effect throughout our city," said union President Alejandra Lopez. "If we reopen schools at this time, there are going to be more cases. There are going to be more hospitalizations and there are going to be more deaths."
Lopez said the union is working in conjunction with other labor unions, who are in agreement that it is not appropriate to report back to school. However, spokespeople for NISD and NEISD said the decision to require teachers to report to campus is for the benefit of students.
"I think it's easier to do any job when you have all of your supplies there," said NEISD's executive director for communications, Aubrey Chancellor. "You are isolated in an area where you can give 100% to the job that you're doing. We know that for all of our students – 64,000-plus – who rely on that teacher to make sure that they are getting all of the instruction they need, we know that that's really the best thing for for everyone to come back to the classroom."
Chancellor said teachers who are unable to secure childcare for their elementary-aged children will have the option of bringing them to work where they can learn remotely. Chancellor said students will be kept eight feet apart, will have access to hand sanitizer and will be required to wear a mask.
Asked whether it was feasible to expect children to comply with safety measures and the potential for heightened risk of bringing the coronavirus home to loved ones, Chancellor said they are employing heightened safety conditions.
Chancellor said that teachers who still have concerns about returning to school may take a leave of absence and that the district will work with those with medical conditions in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"Our teachers, when they go back to work, may not even see anyone during the day," Chancellor said. "There are multiple entrances for them to come into. They can go directly to their classroom and they'll be alone in their classroom. No one else is allowed in that classroom during the day."
NISD said it is still exploring its options and will soon announce finalized plans for teachers struggling to secure childcare.
"They have found a solution to a problem that they created," Lopez said. "And the problem that they created is requiring teachers to report to campus."
Barry Perez, NISD's executive director of communications, said the general consensus is that students, their families and educators want to return to school.
"I think if you talk to educators, I think if you talk to families, if you talk to parents, I think we would all be in agreement that we want students back in buildings because that is the ideal learning environment," Perez said. "Whatever we can do to support certainly the city's directive, the health directive that's in place now, we're going to do that."
While Lopez said they have obtained communications from the assistant superintendent of the district – which state that SAISD was planning on bringing teachers back to the school in phases – Leslie Price, SAISD's executive director of communications, said the plans are still being developed and have not yet been finalized.
"Guidelines have continued to change and evolve beyond what the alliance has posted," Price said in an email. "SAISD is looking at the phasing in of teachers through Labor Day, but all is dependent on the environment and guidance from Metro Health."
She said the district is still weighing "how to support teachers with (childcare), including on-site options and partnering with outside agencies and looking at what availability they may have."