Montgomery teachers call in sick to protest conditions as students return

Updated Oct 14, 2020; Posted Oct 14, 2020

Montgomery Public Schools sign
Montgomery Public Schools sign

By Sarah Whites-Koditschek

A group of Montgomery teachers are taking sick days in protest of the district’s in-person reopening this week.

“It’s not safe,” said Tynisa Williams, a teacher at Brewbaker Middle School who is protesting the district’s re-opening by staying home.

“We were not given a plan for how we were going to have our students back in our schools and also properly protect ourselves from this pandemic,” she said.

Montgomery Public Schools on Wednesday afternoon did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

According to Williams, in some schools, temperature checks are not happening, there is not enough PPE and students are not social distancing. Williams is organizing the “silent protest” with other teachers through Facebook.

Because teachers are handling online and in-person students at the same time, they are doing double duty in a chaotic environment, answering online chats while monitoring a classroom, she said.

Williams called for a delay of reopening in person until January.

The Alabama Education Association did not comment on the demand for a delayed re-opening but says it is in talks with the district and will take action if it does not comply with state guidelines for reopening schools.

“We’re going to hold the district accountable to the things they are supposed to be held accountable to, anything that has to be legally challenged, we stand ready to do what we have to do on behalf of our employees,” said Lynn Pettway, local AEA Uniserv director for the association.

According to Pettway, the district has offered to make case-by-case accommodations for teachers who are immunocompromised.

But Williams, the middle school teacher, says that is not happening.

“We were told there’s no option, you either have to teach or you can go ahead and resign,” she said.

Williams said she is not at liberty to say how many teachers are participating. According to a report in The Montgomery Advertiser, school officials said about 165 Montgomery school employees on Tuesday called off work, although some of those may have had time off scheduled.

Williams says some issues, like unsafe school buildings, predate COVID-19. She says some schools lack hot water and others are poorly ventilated because of mold problems.

The teachers are using sick days to stay home for as long as needed, according to Williams. “It’s a life and death situation,” she said, because many members of the community are at high risk for poor outcomes with COVID-19.