Teachers Stage Sickouts to Protest Reopening Plans in Houston and Idaho


Teachers Stage Sickouts to Protest Reopening Plans in Houston and Idaho

Oct 29, 2020

Last week, teachers from at least 35 campuses in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) staged a sickout to protest what they say are the district’s inadequate COVID-19 safety protocols. HISD, the seventh-largest school district in the country, had reopened for in-person classes just three days earlier.

Earlier in the week, HISD closed 16 schools that had recorded a single COVID-19 positive test. A day later the district announced that schools would need to confirm at least two infections—not one—to trigger a shutdown. Teachers staging the sickout protested the district’s decision to adopt these less restrictive guidelines for keeping campuses open after COVID-19 infections are detected in a member of the school community.

Those who were part of the sickout called for a reversal of the policy, as well as other safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Among the teachers’ demands were smaller class sizes to promote social distancing and serving meals outdoors or in areas with good ventilation. Teacher strikes are illegal in Texas, jeopardizing both credentials and pensions, but the sickout was not an official strike.

In calling in sick, Houston teachers followed in the footsteps of teachers in the West Ada school district, Idaho’s largest, serving more than 38,000 students. At the urging of the teachers’ union, more than 700 teachers called in sick on Monday, Oct. 19. Another 500 teachers called in sick the following day, prompting school closures both days. In the West Ada district, teachers were protesting the decision to keep schools open for in-person learning after local health officials moved the district to the state’s highest COVID-19 risk tier. Teacher strikes are illegal in Idaho.

For their part, some families are also using the sickout strategy in solidarity with staff. Students and parents in the Austin Independent School District in Texas organized a student sickout last week to support teachers and staff opposed to in-person instruction without increased safety protocols.

Attendance structures with some in-person components are becoming increasingly common in districts across the country. According to an EdSurge/Social Context Labs database of 375 districts, half (187 districts) are now offering fully in-person instruction. Over 40% (157 districts) offer hybrid instruction. (These figures include districts that may have both hybrid and fully in-person structures available.) Nearly all of these districts continue to offer remote instruction as an option.

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