EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — An El Paso teacher resigned Thursday, just days before students in El Paso will be heading back into classrooms for the first since the coronavirus pandemic began in March.
The El Paso Independent School District is bringing back students whose parents opted for in-person learning on Tuesday. There is no school Monday because of MLK Day.
El Paso is currently in the “orange zone” for COVID-19 hospitalizations, which means the rate is below 20 percent. For children to return to school, it must remain below 20 percent for seven days. El Paso has now been under the 20 percent rate for 25 days.
Classrooms will only be at 50 percent occupancy or less on Tuesday, a district spokesperson said. As for staff, they were required to return to campuses on Thursday to prepare.
However, an EPISD teacher turned in her resignation on Thursday, her first day back on campus before returning with students on Tuesday.
“I summited my letter of resignation this morning — we were forced back today,” said Kimberly Kincaid, an El Paso teacher.
Kincaid told KTSM 9 News she’s been a teacher for 17 years and this was a difficult decision to make.
“We’ve made it this far and we’re so close to being able to be vaccinated, I just don’t understand it,” she said.
Kincaid said she would feel more confident returning to in-person teaching if she had received both doses of the vaccine.
“I put myself and my significant other on the list right away with UMC and the City, but we haven’t received any information yet,” she said. “I don’t know about Tuesday with just the one vaccine, I would feel much more confident if I had both rounds of the vaccine.”
Kincaid explained that she is extra cautious when it comes to the pandemic, as she lost her mother to COVID-19 in October. “It’s an extra scare for me,” she said.
Kincaid said she has high blood pressure and did apply for a waiver to not have to return to the campus, but says it was denied.
“I had applied for the accommodations to stay home back in November through my doctor, of course, I summited a doctor’s note to human recourses and it was approved,” said Kincaid. “And then Tuesday night around 11:40 p.m., I got an email saying that ADA accommodation had been revoked, so that was kind of the last straw for me.”
According to EPISD, those teachers with health concerns need to contact Human Recourses.
“We have protocols and guidelines for teachers who can’t perform their duties because of illness. Those predate the pandemic,” said Gustavo Reveles, a spokesman for EPISD.
EPISD said they are working with local providers to get their employees on the list to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, they add that they have to follow the guidelines in place for who is currently eligible to receive the vaccine in the community.
“So those who have been trained to provide COVID testing, school nurses and those employees that are 65 and older — those are the first group,” said Melissa Martinez, an EPISD spokeswoman.
She added that students have not been in the classroom since March 13, 2020, and they understand that returning is concerning and a difficult task, thanking teachers.
“We know this is not an easy thing by any means — switching over to remote learning was hard, adjusting to living in a pandemic was hard. And now coming back to our rolls still in the middle of a pandemic is hard and we don’t take that lightly by any means,” Martinez said.
While some students are returning to the classroom on Tuesday, Martinez explained that any student whose parents wants them to return to school can do so by Feb. 1, per the State of Texas.
“We have to get back to the classroom, especially by Feb. 1, our TEA waivers expire,” she said. “On Feb. 1, we go right to green zone, regardless of the rates in El Paso County or Region 19, all students who want to come back can come back on Feb. 1.”
However, Martinez said it doesn’t look like many students will return by then.
“Given the survey responses, and responses from parents, we don’t expect to have more than 50-percent capacity even after Feb. 1,” she said.