House Candidate, Teachers Union President Discuss How Public Schools Should Reopen

House District 108 candidate Joanna Cattanach (left) and Rena Honea, the president of Alliance-ATF teachers union, discussed reopening public schools in Texas.
House District 108 candidate Joanna Cattanach (left) and Rena Honea, the president of Alliance-ATF teachers union, discussed reopening public schools in Texas. Screenshot by Jacob Vaughn

Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that students would be returning to public schools this fall. But as COVID-19 cases surge in Texas, Rena Honea, the president of the teachers union Alliance-ATF, said she has concerns about sending kids back to school.

Honea and Joanna Cattanach, Democratic candidate for the Texas House District 108 seat, discussed reopening public schools amid the pandemic in an online meeting on Monday.

“It is a very scary situation for our schools and our students,” Honea said.

Everyone’s opinion is required if Texas public schools wish to reopen successfully, Honea said. What Honea said was startling about Dallas Independent School District’s reopening plans is that, besides an initial questionnaire, the teachers’ viewpoints have not been sought.

“If there is not good input, and people don’t have good buy-in, people are going to be totally afraid to step one foot into those brick-and-mortar facilities,” Honea said.

House District 108 includes Highland Park Independent School District and DISD. The current model for HPISD includes face-to-face instruction, hybrid learning and online-only learning.

Cattanach has a child who will be in kindergarten this fall, attending a school in DISD, which hasn’t yet settled on its reopening plans. She added that she did not feel confident that teachers would be able to keep their kindergarten students' masks on throughout the school day.

Honea said there is not a definite plan for DISD yet because everything keeps changing. While the district has not settled on its reopening plans, Honea said that it has purchased enough personal protective equipment for students, staff and faculty.

She also said Texas has bought masks, gloves and hand sanitizer for its school districts, each school district may decide if this equipment will be used. Honea said spending so much money on this equipment does not make sense if the state was not going to require schools to use it.

Everything is still up in the air for teachers too, Honea said. Current law says teachers must resign 45 days before instruction begins. In Dallas, that’s July 3. Honea said the Texas American Federation of Teachers sent a letter to the governor, asking him to wave the resignation date to give teachers more time to decide if they feel safe returning to school.

Honea said that while virtual learning isn't best for everyone, especially those who don't have internet access, she thinks it is the safest way for public schools to move forward. 
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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