The start of virtual learning for the 2020-21 school year began on Aug. 4 for the Dysart Unified School District, but with instruction coming from campus, some DUSD teachers chose not to return.
Well ahead of the start, date the district was preparing for the unknown and has had to address a liquidated damages clause, put into effect some years ago by the governing board.
“Dysart Unified School District is committed to providing a high quality education to all students, and a large part of that requires a dedicated staff," Dysart Unified Director of Communications and Public Relations Renee Ryon said. "While we understand that these are challenging times for everyone, our mission to educate remains, and we cannot do that without a full team of staff. If employees leave unexpectedly, we will have immediate, and in many cases, hard to fill positions open. This ultimately impacts our students, who need committed teachers from Day 1.
"As a result, Dysart has had a governing board approved liquidated damages clause in all certificated contracts for many years in order to reduce the turnover of employees without appropriate notice, as is a common practice among districts. We understand that there is a wide range of emotions and concerns relating to the pandemic right now, and Dysart’s Human Relations department has been working tirelessly to address each employee concern as it arises.
"Dysart has developed an extensive health and safety plan to ensure the safety of our staff, including daily health screenings, temperature checks, a mask requirement and increased cleaning and disinfecting processes. We have offered our teachers a transition schedule that allows them to alternate between teaching in an empty classroom and teaching remotely, as well as Learning Labs and Den’s Club as socially distanced childcare options for those that need it.
"If there is a verified medical need, ADA accommodation or Families First Coronavirus Act leave qualification, Dysart happily works to develop a plan to address those needs. We have taken every precaution for our students and staff, and are dedicated to addressing every concern to the best of our ability.”
According to the district, there are some conditions that will cause DUSD to waive the liquidated damages fee — those reasons including medical conditions, retirement or out-of-state moves.
Ms. Ryon said the district has approved 31 certificated employees, which can be teachers or counselors, for a waived fee already this year.
Additionally, 11 other certificated employees have chosen to pay the fee to get out of the contract for reasons not approved by the governing board, and Ms. Ryon said reasons for leaving are varied. A handful of other employees received medical waivers to work from home.
“We have also approved 13 individuals with medical documentation for work from home accommodations, and continue to work with others as they contact us,” she said.
Pursuant to A.R.S. § 15-545, “any teacher resignation without prior governing board approval shall be deemed to be an unprofessional act. Teacher recognizes that the district will incur expenses of securing a replacement and possibly costs for a substitute in the event that the teacher does not fulfill his/her obligations under the contract. In the event that the teacher fails to report to his/her assignment or resigns from employment with the district, effective prior to the end of the term of this contract, employee agrees to pay the district the amount of $2,000 as liquidated damages, and not as a penalty.”
In the Dysart district, the fee collected goes into a human relations fund used for recruiting and hiring expenses, which will be needed to fill the newly vacant position. The district’s human relations department works with each individual on how the fee will be paid. Ms. Ryon said it can be deducted from a paycheck, paid outright or a payment plan can be set up.
With virtual learning in place, questions of also having teachers instructing from home has come up. Ms. Ryon said district officials believe classrooms are the most professional and conducive environment for teaching and learning, even remotely.
“At the school sites teachers have all of their resources and supports readily available, including Wifi, and distractions are much more limited when teaching from an empty classroom rather than at home,” she said.
The district will work with employees to develop a plan to address those who have a verified medical need, ADA accommodations or Families First Coronavirus Act leave qualifications.
Reporter Jennifer Jimenez can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @SCW_Independent.