Teachers alarmed by district email that asks for specific medical information

Union, school district work to clarify teacher skepticism about returning to classrooms

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CLAY COUNTY – Some teachers around the county recently received an email that raised some eyebrows.

A Clay County School District teacher reached out to Clay Today and explained her trepidation surrounding an email she recently received from her employer. The email was sent from CCSD human resources and asked for teachers to select from a number of health condition categories which health complication they have, if any, to determine risk of COVID-19. There were eight categories: Type 2 Diabetes, cancer, obesity, Chronic Kidney Disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Sickle Cell Disease, and immunocompromised state or weakened immune system.

“It was bizarre,” the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “I got an email on a Saturday that asked for this information. The email said you can’t copy this, share this or do anything to it. It was from the school district HR and it had a confidentiality warning as you’re opening it.”

The teacher said after selecting the categories in the survey-like document, it couldn’t be reopened or returned to. It said it would expire, the teacher said.

This email was made for teachers requesting to teach virtually and it seemed like the district was trying to determine who had health complications that warranted teaching virtually versus in a brick and mortar classroom.

It turns out the email was something the Clay County Education Association knew about as it worked with the district on its wording before it was sent out. The wording of the email is what had teachers worried. CCEA President Victoria Kidwell said the email featured wording not approved by CCEA.

“The wording of the email did not come out the way we had discussed and preferred,” Kidwell said. “The intent was that...if you are high risk, you say you are high risk and that’s it. All we wanted was for teachers to attest that they are high risk.”

Kidwell said the focus on health complications wasn’t the intended message as the district will not be determining whether or not a health complication takes priority over a different health complication.

Kidwell said after learning of what the email said, she emailed teachers to tell them what the email should have said. She said she also reached out to the district, district HR and Superintendent David Broskie to explain that CCEA wasn’t happy with the email as the intent discussed between both parties was not clear.

“The district sent out an Instructional Employee Survey requesting teachers to notate their preference for teaching for the return to school,” the district told Clay Today in a statement. “The teachers who selected an online option, either Clay Virtual Academy or OneClayOnline, were sent a follow-up email confirming their request for an online setting and also, asking if they were considered high risk as defined by the CDC.

“This was done in an effort to help the most vulnerable population to ensure they received an online teaching position. At no time did the district ask specific information about why they were classified as high risk. This is also not considered a HIPAA violation because human resources does have the right to request medical information to be able to determine if the employee is able to perform the functions for their job and also to create the safest environment for all employees.

“While this information was collected, the Human Resources Department is not determining online teaching preference by continuous date of hire.”

The purpose of the email was to create a master list of teachers with complications who wish to teach virtually, Kidwell said. The high risks wouldn’t be used for anything other than getting a teacher’s name on a list.

Kidwell said the list looks like this: a teacher’s name, what they can teach, what certifications they have and their teaching tenure. This list would be used to determine prioritization when placing a teacher into a virtual classroom. If the district needs a virtual math teacher, it would look at the teachers who can teach math. It would then look at certifications to narrow the list down more. Then it would pick the teacher with the longest tenure. It doesn’t take into account health complications or risks.

“We can’t put ourselves in the position of determining whose medical risk is more serious than others,” Kidwell said. “We don’t want to be in a position of having to say: ‘Yours isn't as serious as theirs’. That’s why all we had asked the email to ask was for an attestment of high risk [to the coronavirus].”

Saying “Yes, I can attest to being high risk” would get a teacher’s name on the list, and it won’t be considered in the process of assigning a virtual teaching job. The email teachers received didn’t follow that, Kidwell said, which is likely why the email seemed more confidential and secretive than intended.

The list will help the district place virtual teachers, but it does not solve one of the district’s bigger problems ahead of the 2020-21 school year: there are more teachers requesting to teach virtually than there are teachers needed to teach virtually.

Kidwell said it hasn’t been a great time dealing with this dilemma and it has kept her, and many others, awake at night.

“I’m scared to go into a classroom and teach,” the anonymous teacher said. “I can’t tell parents this year in a classroom that I can protect your child. I can jump in front of a bullet for them. I can rescue them from a fire. I can’t stop the silent killer that is COVID-19 and I refuse to lie to a parent and tell them I can keep their child safe from it.

“It’s a scary time to be a teacher.”

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