A total of 36 teachers have resigned and 42 have retired since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the Rio Grande Valley in March, the Brownsville Independent School District reported in response to a public information request from The Brownsville Herald.
BISD, like other school districts in Texas, moved to 100% distance learning when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and has been making preparations for the new school year ever since.
This week, the district is distributing school supplies, internet hotspots and learning devices as it prepares to start the 2020-2021 academic year 100% online. Monday is the first class day.
While instruction will be entirely through distance learning at least through early October, BISD and other districts in Texas eventually will have to return to traditional classroom instruction to continue receiving state funding, as per guidance from the Texas Education Agency.
Until then BISD teachers have the option of presenting lessons from their classrooms or from home.
Patrick Hammes, a spokesman for AFT-BEST, a union associated with the American Federation of Teachers and that represents Brownsville educators, said he was not surprised by the numbers of resignations and retirements.
“The risk of exposure is still at the forefront of everybody’s mind,” he said. “Until the number of infections comes down there’s going to be a lot of fear.”
Hammes said he expects at some point at least some teachers will have to return to classrooms to teach those students who lack internet access or otherwise can’t connect with their classes.
“Hopefully, before the state tells us we have to come in for face-to-face instruction, the district will look for volunteers,” he said
Hammes also urged BISD to adopt a uniform policy on rotation schedules for other staff in order to reduce the risk for everyone.
“Those who are able to do their jobs from home should be able to do so wherever possible,” he said.
Veronica Borrego, president of the Association of Brownsville Educators, which is affiliated with the Texas State Teachers Association, said BISD is losing some of its most experienced teachers.
“We tried our best not to lose so many people,” she said, noting also that many district employees have passed away due to COVID-19. She estimated the number to be in the mid-20s.
“It’s really sad,” she said. “Some people are more afraid of dying than of not being able to provide for their families.”
Alberto Alegria of the Texas Valley Educators Association attributed the retirements and resignations to two factors: people nearing the end of their careers, and the challenges of adapting to teaching remotely.
“These are some of our top teachers, experienced teachers. They know what to do in the classroom,” he said.