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Will teachers risk returning to classrooms when schools reopen? Dallas ISD's biggest union says some may quit or retire

On June 1, schools in Texas can reopen for summer school as long as they adhere to strict guidelines crafted by the state.

DALLAS, Texas — As school districts make plans to reopen for the summer and the fall, the biggest teacher's union in Dallas said Wednesday night that it's preparing to see some educators retire early or quit rather than risk COVID-19 infection in a classroom. 

Rena Honea, the president of Alliance-American Federation of Teachers, expressed the possibility with WFAA before holding a virtual town hall event with teachers. 

The union represents an estimated 6,000 educators within the Dallas Independent School District. 

The main concern that's circulating, Honea said, is safety. 

"The biggest thing we've heard is the fear that teachers have going back to campuses and feeling safe," Honea said. 

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa recently told WFAA that he's 75% sure that students will return to the classroom later this year. 

RELATED: Inside Texas Politics: Dallas ISD superintendent 75% sure students will physically return to school in August 

However, that will likely be under a blended learning model that will include both virtual and in-person teaching, so schools won't be packed and can enforce social distancing. 

A district task force is working out the kinks and is expected to unveil a plan in June. 

"I don't think it will be business as usual, but I also don't think it's going to be the current state," Hinojosa said.

Right now, summer school for DISD will likely remain virtual. 

The state has already laid out guidelines for districts if they choose to do in-person summer school classes. 

RELATED: As school districts plan to open for the fall semester, the question isn't when, but how

In-person attendance cannot be made mandatory, but students who do attend will receive daily temperature checks and will be required to wash their hands twice per day. 

A teacher must supervise students as they wash their hands. 

Not only that, but students must also maintain six feet of distance from each other and cannot gather in groups bigger than 11.   

Student desks will also be separated by dividers. 

But those are just guidelines, and Honea said that there are still unanswered questions about what DISD will do. 

"Will students be required to wear gloves? A mask? What will class sizes look like? Will there be enough space in classrooms to social distance?" Honea said. 

"What about busing? Will there be social distancing on bus routes and how will kids promptly and safely get to school?"

Then, Honea brought up something that some likely haven't thought about. 

Hinojosa told WFAA, like the state has reported, that students won't be required to come to school if their parents feel like it's still unsafe. 

What about teachers? 

"What about our employees that have underlying conditions? Or the ones who are older? And the ones afraid to be on those campuses?" Honea said. "What accommodations will be made for them?" 

The district recently sent a survey to teachers about how to proceed with teaching that must be completed by May 28. 

Still, Honea said that if the district returns to the classroom she expects to see some leave or press pause on the profession. 

"Those who are close to retirement or a retirement age may say this is not for me," Honea said. "Depending on their personal health, personal safety, their family situation, all of that has to be weighed." 

Honea said that teachers have until July 3 to resign or retire without harming their credentials. 

She also added that the district is actively hiring and holding job fairs, which should help. 

High school AP history teacher Diane Birdwell, even in a pandemic, wants to get back to the classroom. 

But she echoed similar concerns about the unknowns that Honea brought up. 

"We just want to know what the plans are," Birdwell said. "They sent us a survey and we filled it out but they control the questions. We have a lot of concerns that weren't addressed in the survey." 

Birdwell is a representative for another teacher's union within DISD, the Dallas chapter of the National Education Association. 

She's worried about class sizes and wants to know if she'll have to provide her own personal protective equipment like masks or gloves.

"Is someone going to deep clean my room everyday or am I expected to do it? Do I wear gloves? What do I do?" Birdwell asked.  

Birdwell, who is almost 60, is already looking at getting face shields so that students can see her facial expressions when she teaches. 

"I'm also buying multiple masks in case the district can't afford to do it, I have to take care of myself," Birdwell said. 

Birdwell just hopes district leaders address it all, and allows teachers a streamlined outlet to vocalize concerns. 

"The best leaders listen to the people that they lead, and that's what I'm asking for," Birdwell said. 

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