North Texas Daily

COVID-19 classroom policies continue to change, leaving some educators uncomfortable

COVID-19 classroom policies continue to change, leaving some educators uncomfortable

COVID-19 classroom policies continue to change, leaving some educators uncomfortable
October 29
12:00 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold in Texas, some teachers and future educators express discomfort with current classroom policies. 

Many public schools and universities have returned to a full in-person learning experience for the fall 2021 semester. This includes in-class instruction, where face masks and operating limits cannot be mandated as per Gov. Greg Abbott’s most recent executive order.

“When I took this job, I never imagined I would be here,” said Robin Coffelt, a lecturer in the Department of English. “I have had active cases in all of my classes and it’s scary. Thankfully though, almost all of my students mask up.” 

Social distancing has also been phased out in some schools. The university itself announced in May of this year that it would be moving away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of six-feet social distancing practices. 

Educators are potentially being exposed to active COVID-19 cases throughout the workday. In-person teaching looks different from two years ago, as many teachers wear masks and/or face shields as students filter through their classrooms on a daily basis. Under Texas Education Agency rules, schools must notify teachers if a test-confirmed COVID-19 case has been identified in their classroom. 

Political science senior Deni Viera Perez said students should understand that being sick means not showing up to class, to protect teachers’ safety “as well as our own.”

In K-12 schools, the TEA said parents “must ensure” they do not send their child to school in person if the child has COVID-19 symptoms or is test-confirmed with the virus. Similarly, the university encourages students who feel sick or have a fever to stay at home. However, on Sept. 8, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Elizabeth With told the Student Government Association a teacher does not have the right to ask a student to leave the classroom if the student is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Education senior Valerie Cervantes, who is currently completing her clinical teaching, said the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District’s COVID-19 guidelines “were consistently changing, yet students were still positive and [teachers] were risking it each day, realistically.”

Cervantes said she was worried that if she or her fellow teachers were to get sick, little assistance would be provided by school administration. The TEA requires schools to allow the exclusion of in-person attendance for staff who are actively sick with or suspected of being infected with COVID-19. 

“As a teacher, the district rules were changing and they were saying teachers have to use their personal days off to quarantine,” Cervantes said.

The requirement that employers provide paid sick, expanded family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expired on Dec. 31, 2020, according to the TEA. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 effectively extended the emergency paid sick leave of the FFCRA until Sept. 30, 2021. Now, local education agencies, as employers, have the exclusive authority to make leave determinations in accordance with and subject to federal law and Department of Labor guidance.

Educators like Coffelt and Cervantes are unsure of what will happen next in terms of classroom COVID-19 policy. In September, at least 45 Texas school districts shut down their in-person operations due to COVID-19 outbreaks, with 43,397 student cases reported by the Department of State Health Services on Sept. 5. Almost a month later, on Oct. 3, the statewide number had dropped to 11,548 student cases in public schools.

As of Oct. 17, student cases have lowered to 5,133. Public school staff cases were reported at 976, compared to 6,285 on Sept. 5.

The falling rate of COVID-19 cases in schools over the last six weeks has some students optimistic that the face-to-face format will continue. Perez said she is “very appreciative that all of my classes are in person because I struggled so much online.”

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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