This will be a different school year for teachers. Many teachers are deciding whether to resign or teach as the pandemic continues.
In Houston, the last day for a teacher to resign or to be locked into a contract for the school year was July 10. One teacher who taught for six years pre-COVID-19 at Houston ISD is resigning, KHOU reported. Her children have asthma, and that was a deciding factor.
Senior Communications Consultant Theresa Gage of Texas Association of School Boards said on Wednesday that each district has a different penalty-free resignation date, which is 45 days before the first day of instruction. The date is not the same for every district.
“The first date of instruction may be later for some districts based on state-level announcements and local district changes coming later this week,” she said.
Kaylee Nemec, a communications specialist for the Teacher Retirement System, said as of July 10, retirements are down compared with the previous year and said “we’re currently seeing about a 13.5% decrease in retirements based on this time in FY 2019.”
Andy Dewey, executive vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said Wednesday in an email that he has an idea about why those numbers are down.
“The district told us today that resignations are down compared to this time last year. It could be the uncertainty of not knowing if they could be rehired after COVID. Teachers, however, are now locked into their contracts. They may still apply for a clean release due to medical conditions, but the district will review those on an individual basis, and they may be turned down. That would put them in the position of facing penalties,” he said.
For those wondering if a teacher could just resign temporarily through this year, it doesn’t work that way.
“There’s no such thing as a temporary resignation; you either quit or you don’t,” Gage said.
It is unknown if adjustments will be made for the 2020-21 school year when it comes to abandoning a contract if you have missed the deadline.
Laws and policies on abandoning a contract still stand, Gage said.
“Some teacher groups are advocating that they should allow teachers to resign later as more information is available to them about potential risks and district expectations,” she said.
Teachers who have stayed on can face penalties for resigning without district approval, and that can lead to a permanent mark on their record.
“A lot of our members have expressed concern about returning to campuses while the pandemic is still dangerous and threatens their health and the health of their students,” said Clay Robison of the Texas State Teachers Association on Wednesday.
Robison didn’t know how many may have resigned or taken early retirement.
“It is a very difficult, personal decision. Teachers love to teach, but they have to balance their professions against what’s best for themselves and their families. The governor and the education commissioner need to slow down school reopenings so teachers aren’t forced to make these decisions prematurely,” he said.
If a teacher wants to abandon a contract, they must get district approval to not face penalties, they must provide a written notice 30 days prior and also assist the district in finding a replacement and assist with training the new teacher, according to the Texas Association of School Boards. A good cause for abandonment of a contract is a serious illness or health condition of the teacher or a close family member, relocation to a new city because of a spouse’s job, or a significant change in family needs.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers calls for caution.
“Reopening schools doesn’t happen with an all-caps tweet. It happens with careful planning to meet our students’ well-being and academic needs, methodical attention to preventing virus spread in schools, and sufficient federal resources to help us get there,” Weingarten said. “Science and safety come first. This administration has found handouts for any industry, corporation and CEO that needed it, but now our kids, communities and schools need a hand up. Schools can’t reopen without more resources, more staff, more safety precautions and more space. Trump and (U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy) DeVos may want to play it fast and loose with the lives of people who go to restaurants and hair salons, but we’re not willing to play it fast and loose with the kids and teachers who go to schools.”
This week, RA news reported Houston Federation of Teachers and other Houston educators and community groups released their recommendations for reopening Houston public schools.