No one should be made to choose between their job and their health or the health of their family members. School systems that are expanding in-person instruction while the coronavirus pandemic continues and vaccination is in scarce supply have created unavoidable risks and impossible choices for particularly vulnerable educators. Too many districts are now failing or unwilling to provide remote work options to the extent practicable as a reasonable accommodation for educators seeking to protect their safety and their families due to an underlying medical issue. To right this wrong MSEA is working to pass HB 1322, sponsored by Del. Alonzo Washington (D-22). This bill would prohibit blanket denials of telework requests from educators, particularly in the case of those seeking the full course of vaccination prior to returning.
We must ensure that the educators most at risk from the coronavirus can make safe decisions for themselves and their families, particularly for those who are not otherwise entitled to accommodations.
As schools return increasingly to in-person instruction, a number of educators, like special educator Jennifer Horst, have sought accommodations to protect themselves or an at-risk family member from potential exposure to the coronavirus. “I was forced to choose between my students and my life,” said Jennifer Horst, a 22-year educator, who is caregiver for her fiancé, who is paralyzed. Jennifer testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on March 3 to describe being denied accommodations in Washington County to teach from home, even though her fiancé is immunocompromised and Jennifer has not been able to get vaccinated. Exposure to the virus poses a life-threatening risk to her family, but her situation is not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Those who personally have an underlying medical condition qualify for accommodations under the ADA. Those unvaccinated educators who live with or care for individuals with underlying medical conditions that place them at high risk of serious illness if exposed to the coronavirus and those who are over 65 and unvaccinated do not have such protections under the law. This bill would begin to address that inequity.
HB 1322 prevents retaliation against educators who are 65 or older, have an underlying medical condition identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as putting them at greater risk from coronavirus (or who live in a household with, or are the primary caretaker for, an individual who meets either of those conditions), have not been vaccinated, and who choose not to return to in-person instruction. The bill would permit those who have not yet received the full course of vaccination for the coronavirus the opportunity to seek remote work if practicable.
The bill would also prevent the suspension or revocation of certifications of an educator who chooses not to instruct in-person during the 2020-21 school year.
We know that there are disproportionate impacts from the coronavirus on people over 65 years old and those with underlying medical conditions. Multigenerational families living together, and older people who depend on younger relatives for care, are at clear risk. The slow pace of the vaccination roll-out makes it more challenging to vaccinate those educators who may be most at risk from the coronavirus. Underlying medical conditions may make some educators susceptible to severe consequences from the coronavirus that makes it potentially hazardous to be in school rather than working remotely. No one should suffer retaliation for choosing safe working conditions for themselves and their family when practicable.
Join educators in support of HB 1322 by clicking here to email your legislators.