The Texas State Teachers Association, Association of Brownsville Educators and the National Education Association started a petition on Change.org asking for a vote of no confidence for Brownsville Independent School District Superintendent Rene Gutierrez.
The petition, which has received 600 signatures as of Friday afternoon, hopes to have Gutierrez removed from his position for failing to effectively lead the school district prior to and especially during this catastrophic pandemic. Among the concerns brought by the different associations are significant inequities of employees working remotely; egregious violations of families First Coronavirus Response Act, and failure to assist employees who have requested to work remotely due to compromised health conditions and/or need to childcare. In addition to the Taskforce Committee not being a representation of all employees and mandated teaching platforms such as Google Meets with no input or recommendations from teachers as to what was needed to use those platforms effectively.
In response the petition, BISD said in a prepared statement “The District respects the associations’ opinions, however, it is the responsibility and obligation of the BISD superintendent to follow and adhere state and federal guidelines such as the Texas Education Agency and the United States Department of Education to provide the highest quality of instruction during these extraordinary and difficult times.
“Although the decisions made by the local, state, and national governments may not be understood, BISD and stakeholders must work together as a community to achieve the district’s mission and goals of educating our children,” BISD said.
The district further stated “BISD has developed a plan of action to safely begin the phase-in process of allowing students to attend face-to-face instruction as required by state guidelines. This plan has been presented to the Board of Trustees and Administration to start the implementation of the reopening phase in late September.”
The pandemic started in March and neither the teachers or students returned to the classroom after that but ended the 2019-2020 school year with distance learning.
“With this pandemic starting, just like any district, there were a lot of issues and we kept addressing it with him to help him understand what the teachers and the employees were going through to address those issues and he would not respond. So, we kept getting an increase of concerns from members and they were valid concerns: how they are handling the distance learning, how they are handling the safety equipment and everything that’s being done at the school district. They were valid concerns at an alarming rate so that is why we kept pushing forward and we would go to the virtual board meetings to speak,” Ida Abeldano, organizing specialist with TSTA, said in an interview.
Other concerns brought by BISD employees include the lack of personal protective equipment for those who were required to go back to work and the lack of proper protocols in writing as to which employees qualify to work from home. According to Abeldano, the BISD Safety Plan presented to school board is lacking in many areas to provide adequate guidance and resources to all staff regarding critical health and safety concerns.
“They were handing out expired hand sanitizers, they were requiring people to go back to work and they did not give them PPE and also inequities of letting certain people work remotely and not letting others. There wasn’t that consistency across the board and there was no proper protocols in writing as to which employees qualify to work from home,” she said.
“There’s lives at stake here, we are not just complaining to complain, we lost several employees to COVID and when the district is not doing their part in anything to help reduce that risk, then there is a problem.”
Other concerns mentioned in the petition include the lack of adequate hot spots devices for students with adequate mobile plans to allow for use the whole month and not exceed data use within two weeks as well as Chromebook devices not provided to all students six months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since this man came in, he had his first meeting with us and things like that to hear some of the concerns, but we noticed he would tell us that he was going to look into these things and get back to us but he never did. We would send additional emails with concerns because we’ve been here forever and we know how to work these things, to resolve issues and we kept noticing that he wasn’t responsive like past superintendents,” Abeldano said.
Abeldano added she has submitted public information requests to know who is part of the Coronavirus Taskforce Committee but has not received response. She added the taskforce is lacking representation to really address the issues by both students and employees and does not include a medical professional to advise the superintendent.
“We have actually asked because according to him he has a task force but we have asked to be able to be on there and he has not responded, he said that they already have who they need, but keep in mind that they are making these decisions and it does not have representation fairly across for everybody in the district and I understand that we cannot represent each and every position out there but at least some from the campuses, some from the different departments that are out there,” she said.
“He has no medical professionals on the task force that he says that he has, so who is he getting his input from?”