Here are some of the most frequently asked questions members are calling our Legal Department about regarding returning to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

WATCH NOW: Returning to Work Amid COVID-19 Part 1
TCTA Staff Attorney Julie Leahy answers questions about returning to work amid the pandemic including, Must I report to work in August if I do not agree with my school district’s plan for addressing the pandemic? and Are my concerns about COVID-19 considered “good cause” to resign?

If I am otherwise in good health and I do not have a medical condition that puts me at risk for the more severe form of COVID-19, must I report to work in August if I do not agree with my school district’s plan for addressing the pandemic?

Generally speaking – Yes. 

If you are concerned about returning to work due to potential exposure to the virus, you may have the following options:

  • resignation
  • filing a grievance about the district’s response to the pandemic or
  • taking medical leave.

The Texas Education Code imposes a deadline by which you must submit your resignation to avoid potential sanctions on your certification. That deadline is 45 calendar days prior to the first day of instruction, which has already passed for most school districts. For districts with a first day of instruction in mid-August, the 45-day deadline occurred  in early July.

What happens if I decide to resign, but the deadline has passed?

You may request to be released from your contract. If the district agrees, you may resign with no penalty in accordance with mutually agreed to terms. However, if the district declines to release you from your contract, you have a difficult decision to make. If the district does not agree to release you and you fail to come to work, you have abandoned your legally binding employment contract. If you abandon your contract without good cause, the district has 30 calendar days to file a written complaint with the State Board for Educator Certification. If timely filed, your teaching certificate may very well be subject to sanctions. You can learn more about these specific matters in the TCTA Legal Department’s resignation video series.

There are a couple of important exceptions to the laws and rules related to contract abandonment which provide that you can resign from your otherwise binding contract past the deadline, and without penalty, if you have what is known as “good cause” to resign from your contract.

Are my concerns about COVID-19 considered “good cause?”

It depends on your specific concerns. One reason to resign recognized as good cause for abandonment of contract is if you are ill or a close family member has a medical condition that requires you to serve as a caregiver to them. This may apply to a teacher who has an elderly family member or a child who is vulnerable and requires attention and care. Please understand that this protection does not extend to someone who is thinking of quitting his/her job in order to accept another teaching position closer to home, even if that would allow you to devote more time to care for your family member(s). Good cause to resign from your contract only exists if you intend to quit your job to stay home and serve as a full-time, necessary, caregiver.

Good cause may also exist if you have experienced a significant life change resulting from the pandemic after the resignation deadline has passed. For example, if you lose housing or childcare and must move as a result.

If you are a TCTA member who has been informed that you will not be released from your contract, but are still considering not reporting to work, please contact the TCTA Legal Department immediately at 888-879-8282 before making a final decision and prior to submitting your written resignation.

What if I am considering filing a grievance about my district’s plan for addressing COVID-19?

If you are a TCTA member and are considering this option, please give us a call. Our staff attorneys can discuss the specifics of your district’s plan to determine if it complies with the applicable legal requirements. Please bear in mind that if you choose to file a grievance, this does not mean that you do not have to report to work while it is pending. Finally, timelines for filing a grievance are typically short, some as short as 10 calendar days.   

Are there any types of leave that would allow me to stay home to care for a close family member who is vulnerable to the disease?

Such leave may be available to you. This is a complex issue, so TCTA members should contact the Legal Department to discuss your individual circumstances and whether you may qualify for leave.

If your district’s board of trustees has not yet decided on its plan for the upcoming school year, TCTA encourages you to voice your concerns and work constructively with your trustees. The Texas Education Code gives you the right to speak individually to board members regarding school related matters. You may contact them with your concerns and thoughts regarding various options that they may, or may not, be considering. You should attend (virtually or otherwise) board meetings at which these issues are scheduled to be discussed. Many school boards offer live streaming of meetings enabling your participation in the process, while observing social distancing. Even the most informed and concerned school districts are grappling with tremendous public health issues right now. The best way to make sure your concerns are heard and considered is to voice them in a constructive and professional manner.

Can my district require me to sign a waiver to access all my medical records?

The short answer is that you should not sign any sort of waiver without first consulting with the TCTA Legal Department.

Districts can make medical inquiries that are consistent with business necessity. In the context of COVID-19, the district can ask if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or if you have been in contact with anyone with COVID-19. It can also take your temperature and administer a COVID-19 test, if it takes steps to make sure the test is accurate. Additional information is available from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in recent guidance on its website.

If you are seeking a reasonable accommodation for a disability, such as the ability to work remotely or be transferred into a position where remote work is available, the district may request medical documentation to substantiate that you have a disability that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the EEOC in more general guidance on its website:

An employer may require an employee to provide documentation that is sufficient to substantiate that s/he has an ADA disability and needs the reasonable accommodation requested, but cannot ask for unrelated documentation. This means that, in most circumstances, an employer cannot ask for an employee’s complete medical records because they are likely to contain information unrelated to the disability at issue and the need for accommodation.

An employer can deny a request for a reasonable accommodation if the employee fails to cooperate and provide the requested medical certification, but if the employer’s request for records is overly broad, or if you need assistance in requesting an accommodation or have questions about medical inquiries, and if you are a TCTA member, you should call our Legal Department at 888-879-8282 for assistance from one of our staff attorneys.