Teacher unions weigh in on San Antonio’s school district staffing shortages

No mask mandate seen as part of the problem

Many of the more than 2,300 teachers and staff who were absent Monday in the Northside and North East Independent School Districts were likely local chapter members of the American Federation of Teachers.

But Alejandra Lopez, president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, said she predicts when the San Antonio Independent School District resumes classes Tuesday, “We will feel the impact less severely.”

In addition to the extra week of winter break, Lopez said, “We have been very fortunate that the work that we’ve been doing as a union has had a tremendous impact on the safety protocols in our district.”

SAISD still has a district-wide mask mandate defying Governor Greg Abbott’s ban and the court rulings in support.

She also said SAISD continues to do contract tracing, quarantines, and it partnered with the union to make vaccination and testing available to its students and staff.

Wanda Longoria, president of the Northside chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said the union has been working closely with the district since the latest surge began.

Longoria said the district has acted on some of its concerns, but the union wants to see more done, for instance,

“We would like the district to reinstate a temporary mask requirement until the infections wane.”

But NISD is abiding by the Governor’s mask mandate ban.

Barry Perez, NISD spokesman, said the district partnered with Community Labs, to set up a central testing site for its employees which began Monday. But Longoria said the union wants to see testing sites at all campuses.

Longoria also said the union wants to see the metrics regarding at what point classes may have to be shut down.

Perez said the district is not considering “large-scale virtual learning.”

“However, it is conceivable that we may have to temporarily return to it on a small scale, such as classroom,” Perez said. “No defined metrics have been established.”

As for the COVID-19 protocol playbook which the Northside AFT chapter wants to see in use again, Perez said the protocol document is being updated and will be posted on the district website, along with the most recent reporting of COVID cases.

Longoria said the union also had asked NISD to distribute KN95 face masks.

However, Perez said, the district has “a variety of face masks” and other PPE for students and staff who may need them.

Tom Cummins, executive director of the North East Federation of Teachers, said, the union does not want to see a return to virtual learning.

But with many students having to stay home, Cummins said, “Small pockets of students fall behind. So the teacher ends up with the classroom of students at all different levels of the program.”

He said that makes it “extremely difficult” for teachers.

Cummins said NEISD is trying to recruit more substitute teachers by offering higher pay to fill in the gaps as more teachers call in sick themselves.

He said, “There are literally hundreds of thousands of Texans who have a teaching certificate and are not teaching. So we need to recruit them.”

About the Authors

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.

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