Lucio calls on Abbott to reconsider opening schools

Faulk Middle School teachers Juan and Alma Marie Salazar express their concerns about COVID-19 and returning to the classroom Thursday outside the couple’s Brownsville home. (Denise Cathey | The Brownsville Herald)

State Rep. Eddie Lucio III is calling on Gov. Greg Abbott not to reopen schools for in-person instruction as planned, saying such a move in the middle of a pandemic would unnecessarily place teachers and staff at risk for contracting COVID-19.

In a letter to Abbott posted on Facebook Thursday morning, Lucio said he appreciates that parents have the option to choose distance learning over in-person instruction, but that the same courtesy is not being extended to teachers and staff.

Lucio also started a Facebook group called TexansforVirtualInstruction to serve as a platform for citizens to express their concerns about a return to inperson learning.Thegoalisto provide a place where people who want the decision to be reconsidered can have their voices heard.

President Donald Trump and Abbott on Tuesday said they want schools to reopen five days a week. The next day Vice President Mike Pence said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for reopening schools were too strict and ordered them to be revised.

“Our teachers and staff are the backbone of our education system, yet they are being forced to return to work in conditions that will undoubtedly have them at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19,” Lucio states in the letter. “It forces them to put their own families at risk by virtue of their own interactions after being exposed to large groups during the school day. Our teachers and staff deserve better than this and should never have to choose between their job and their health and safety.”

Lucio said the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak sweeping Texas informed his decision to post the letter, start the Facebook group and launch a petition drive calling on Abbott and the Texas Education Agency to reconsider their decision and allow the upcoming school year to be conducted exclusively via virtual instruction.

“A lot of teachers are too scared to talk, but I’m more scared of the pandemic,” said Louis Leal, a 30-year teacher for the Brownsville Independent School District currently teaching at Stillman Middle School.

Leal said he spent the day Wednesday communicating with Texas U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Abbott and members of the BISD Board of Trustees that the decision to open the schools on the basis that Trump, Abbott and TEA are proposing is the wrong decision.

“I believe I’m right,” he said. “This is about life and death not a paycheck.”

Leal gave a hypothetical example of one infected but asymptomatic riding a bus with 15 other students on it and attending a classroom with 20 or so students. Some of those students get infected and in turn bring the virus home to their families. It’s not Lucio’s letter implores Abbott to reconsider.

“While I understand that this issue is complicated, I respectfully ask that you and the TEA commissioner reconsider this decision and prevent exposing our students, teachers and staff to unnecessary risks associated with this pandemic. The current proposal for the school year has given school districts no choice and is forcing themtounnecessarilyexpose their students, teachers and staff to retain their funding,” he wrote.

Lucio said he appreciates the need to get back to work, “but I also fear the toll this is going to take” and that there will be greater spikes if the schools reopen under current plans.