DeKalb teacher: For our safety, some of us should work from home

Community members in DeKalb held signs to protest against the reopening of DeKalb County schools.
Community members in DeKalb held signs to protest against the reopening of DeKalb County schools.

Credit: Wilborn P. Nobles III

Credit: Wilborn P. Nobles III

Teacher three months from retirement says district is not moving quickly enough on leave requests

Cynthia L. McGee is an ESOL interventionist at DeKalb’s Dresden Elementary School. In this guest column, she shares her disappointment with the DeKalb County School District’s stance on telework for teachers who have pending leave requests.

McGee says a district staffer told her, “No one will be approved for telework.”

In a statement about DeKalb’s work-at-home/telework policy provided to me today, a district spokeswoman said:

DCSD does not have a telework option. FMLA (The Family and Medical Leave Act) is for requesting leave. It is not an approval process for teleworking. ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act) is for requesting accommodations based on job duties and responsibilities. If the employee’s condition requires them to remain at home and they are eligible, they may request FMLA.

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In an AJC story, DeKalb Schools reporter Wilborn P. Nobles III reported:

DeKalb County School officials said this week they are reviewing 533 pending requests from employees, including teachers, who have sought work accommodations for work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The remaining requests were discussed during a board of education meeting this week. Michelle Jones, the DeKalb County School District interim chief of Human Resources, said they’re asking principals to give staff temporary accommodations as they develop a plan for the requests. Jones said they only had one person reviewing requests, but their team has recently expanded.

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With that background, here is McGee’s column.

By Cynthia McGee

I am an educator for DeKalb County School District. My primary care doctor filled out the necessary paperwork requesting that I should be allowed to teach from home amid the pandemic. DeKalb County received that information more than a month ago.

I have several medical issues; one is that I am 72 and will be retiring in three months. Under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on COVID-19, I am considered at an increased risk for severe illness from the virus, based on my age and other medical issues.

I teach at Dresden Elementary School. This school is more than 60 years old. Health experts have made clear that a requirement for students to return to school is a safe, well functional, ventilation system. Over the last 15 years, Dresden Elementary school has not had a winter that did not require a work order to be placed for the ventilation system. A few miles down the road sits a brand-new school, Doraville Elementary, and its windows do not open.

All schools in Dekalb County are not created equally.

In addition to this inequality, I recently learned DeKalb had only one person reviewing the ADA documents. Recently, they have added additional people. It does not seem fair that DeKalb Schools didn’t put the sufficient people in place to review the paperwork of teachers throughout the district until just recently. Especially since this important paperwork partly explains why it is not safe for those, with already prescribed symptoms, to return to school.

Cynthia McGee
Cynthia McGee

I believe this is a ploy the district is using to manipulate teachers into coming back before it is safe for them to do so. The lack of staff helping to approve the requests and also the wording of the documents supports my belief. The wording of the documents has not been updated; these are regular leave documents. These documents do not support all pre-existing conditions for teachers who have the potential to develop severe complications if they contract COVID-19. This does not support teachers and their well-being.

I just heard from DeKalb’s HR department. I was told that no one will be approved for telework. NO ONE! There would be school-based accommodations for face-to-face teaching.

This is a pandemic. Whether other school systems are reporting the true numbers or not, teachers, students and families are contracting this virus. Educators’ medical requests should be honored, and teachers who submit should be allowed to work from home until their requests have been completed.

Teachers that submitted ADA requests/documentation should not have to report to school, and they shouldn’t have to report to school for mandatory MAP and ACCESS testing to test students face-to-face.

This is a great injustice to the dedicated and devoted teachers of DeKalb County. How many teachers will have to die before they say “that’s enough” and correct this erroneous mistake?

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