‘We can’t have business as usual during a crisis’: Amarillo ISD teacher asks board to fund additional staff

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — As Amarillo ISD continues offering kids the option to learn from home, at least one teacher says educators are spread too thin.

Amarillo ISD teacher Aaron Phillips posted a letter he wrote to the board of trustees on his Facebook page on Wednesday. The letter was intended to be a public comment for Thursday’s special board meeting.

“As we’re several months into the school year, there are still a lot of workload issues where teachers are having to figure out how to teach their kids in the classroom, but then also design instruction for kids at home,” Phillips said, “And so that’s got people working 10, 12, 14 hour days, just to make it day to day.”

Phillips, who also serves as the president of the Amarillo Education Association, said there were already workload issues but they are exacerbated by the pandemic. He said educators are dealing with fatigue because this system is unsustainable.

“Workload issues are much worse when somebody is having to do the same things in two full-time capacities, rather with them with just one full-time job,” Phillips added.

He said teachers are being forced to choose between an easier workload or what is best for the kids.

“With our educational staff being drained, there’s not enough ability to focus on the kids who are at home and likely have the same needs and so it’s kind of just scraping by without actually helping kids have the cognitive growth they need and address the traumas they’ve had,” Phillips continued.

Phillips said ideally, teachers would focus either on virtual or in-person teaching.

“We’ve seen so many districts around us take the virtual option away because it isn’t a sustainable system using traditional methods. So the only way we can continue to respect the families who have a need to stay home is by putting funding into having separate remote learning systems and face-to-face systems. Because face-to-face is different too, with all of the new safety protocols.”

What was Phillips’ request to the board? More funding to hire across the district.

Phillips said, “For this school year, at this moment, in this crisis, our school board has the funds that it can release to aggressively hire more people. Not just teachers, but assistants, counselors, nurses, and librarians, and really have an effort to bring these people into our schools so we can make the 2020-2021 school year more successful.”

“It’s almost as if it’s business as usual, and we can’t have business as usual during a crisis.”

Aaron Phillips, AISD Teacher

Phillips said he believes that money could be reallocated from AISD’s general fund.

Phillips continued, “…Putting that towards hiring more people to help us address the workload issues and make sure that kids can get a quality education. Whether the family feels comfortable having them in the classroom, or if a family has to keep that kid at home.”

He said a long-term fix for the staffing issue would require legislative action from the State of Texas—especially as they are still planning for kids to take the STAAR test this year—making the workload more difficult, on top of at least six months outside of the classroom for some students.

Thursday’s special AISD board meeting will be at 8 a.m. and held virtually.

The district was contacted for comments on Phillips’ concerns but no response has been given as of yet.

When Phillips was asked if he heard from the board, he said: “I don’t anticipate it being… I don’t anticipate a direct response, at least not before the meeting. You know, it’s been… that’s one of my frustrations as well, is we’ve consistently reached out to the board but the board has not, I guess reached out to us or reached out to labor to ask us questions or to seek clarification. It’s almost as if it’s business as usual and we can’t have business as usual during a crisis.”

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