HOUSTON - Local teachers called out sick to protest STAAR testing and to call for safer conditions in schools.
According to the group Community Voices for Public Education, at least 200 teachers from 9 local school districts participated in National Sick Out Day.
The effort is to call for the suspension of standardizing testing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, the Texas Education Agency stated it will suspend A-F ratings for the 2020-2021 school year but STAAR testing will proceed as a way to gauge student learning during the pandemic.
"I knew I had to say something about how things are right now in order for it to change," said Jeremy Eugene, a high school English teacher for Aldine Independent School District.
Eugene feels administering STAAR tests during pandemic is dangerous, unfair, and unnecessary.
Last week, Eugene says he was assigned to help with STAAR retests -- and a student became visibly ill and had to leave the classroom.
The other students, he says, had to stay and finish the tests.
"Putting myself in their shoes, I know I wouldn't have done my best on that test if a situation like that is in the back of my mind," he explained. "I'm thinking am I going to survive the next week? I'm not thinking of what is the correct grammar on this question I'm looking at."
He also feels teachers have not been able to adequately prepare students for the exams this year.
"I actually proctored the STAAR retest exam last week for high schools students and it was unsafe," said Sarah, a high school teacher for Houston ISD. She did not want use her full name for fear of retaliation.
She says teachers had to get close to students to help them with computer issues, and it is hard to keep students apart.
"For example, when my students entered the building they were hugging. They were close talking. They haven't seen each other in so long," she recalled.
Houston ISD responded in a statement:
The Houston Independent School District will follow the TEA’s directive to administer the STAAR test this school year, not as an accountability metric, but as a means of gauging students’ academic performances in order to better create comprehensive scholastic strategies and solutions for the future.
HISD remains focused on providing our students with a high-quality education while ensuring that the health, safety and well-being of both our students and staff are held to the highest standard as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will continue working with federal and state lawmakers in an effort to secure fair and equitable funding needed to provide instructional continuity to the students of the Houston Independent School District.
Sarah also accused HISD of forcing teachers to use their own sick days if they have to quarantine or are diagnosed with COVID-19.
The district responded:
It is unfortunate that incomplete information was publicly shared. It has always been HISD’s intention that employees who are asked to quarantine as a result of performing their duties, will continue to be paid and will not be required to use their leave days.
With the expiration of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) on Dec. 31, our absence reporting will require utilizing leave time when an employee is unable to report to work for reasons not specifically related to workplace exposure to the coronavirus.
As we receive updates, we will continue to examine our procedures.
Aldine ISD did not respond to FOX 26 request for a statement.
Eugene feels standardized testing at this time is not worth the risk.
"The test, I think, is mostly going to tell us what we already know. That things aren't working well," he added. "We need to do better and for that reason, I don't feel like it's a good idea to put everybody's safety at risk."