Teachers in Tuscaloosa have sued over a spate of pandemic strains
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Four Tuscaloosa County teachers claim their district left them overworked and underpaid last year, as Alabama schools adjust instruction and respond to the epidemic.
Michelle Beasley, who teaches math at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa County, filed a complaint against the system in June, claiming that the school had violated Alabama law by requiring her and other teachers to perform significantly more teaching duties than they were hired and are compensated for when the program switched to hybrid learning last year.
The lawsuit comes as districts across the state are scrambling to retain teachers after seeing a record number of retirements last year. Experts claim that instructional changes and increased workloads have exacerbated teacher burnout in general.
Some districts reduced teaching time so that they could focus on other tasks, such as adapting coursework or responding to more online inquiries. Some even gave teachers the option to teach hybrid or remote classes.
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However, Beasley claimed that Tuscaloosa County did not reduce the number of instructional days or separate in-person and virtual teaching duties, unlike the vast majority of other school systems in Alabama.
She claimed that defendants had induced a partial termination without due process by not compensating for additional hours worked, in violation of Alabamas Student First Act.
Beasley claims that the district's efforts to reduce workloads, such as purchasing a new computer system with Cares Act funding, failed to provide teachers with direct assistance.
Edgenuity, the new system that has since been scrutinized for a lack of instructional supports, did not cover all classes and wasnt being used by several students, she claimed.
She stated that the district reimbursed librarians and other school personnel who assisted students with the software, but that it did not provide teachers with extra compensation for sometimes taking in an extra full day of work each week to meet students virtual needs.
Beginning in December 2020, Tuscaloosa County Schools teachers are charged with discrimination by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to court documents.
Beasley, who has taught in the system for 32 years, claimed age and sex discrimination, stating that the policy negatively affected teachers, which in her district are disproportionately women. She said that when she brought her complaints to the predominantly male school board, the teachers were labeled as whiny females.
She wrote, Stated otherwise, they dismissed our claims and told us to end the female hysteria and shut up, she said.
Rebecca Kennedy, who teaches fourth grade at Holt Elementary School, said she was inundated with calls and emails from virtual students that kept her up late at night.
While everyone, including teachers, must do their part to prevent this epidemic, the burden of the epidemic should not and should never be solely on the shoulders of already overworked and underpaid educators, especially when most of them are women, and most have to be the primary caregivers of their children and other relatives.I am an educated, trained, experienced teacher, not a computer scientist or web designer, Kennedy wrote.
In March, the EEOC granted Kennedy and Beasley their right to sue in federal court, and in mid-September, Berealey and three others filed an amended complaint with two additional discrimination charges, including one from a teacher who said she was so overwhelmed that she had to get e-book for mental health issues.
Two weeks later, Tuscaloosa County Schools Superintendent Keri Johnson and board members filed motions to dismiss all claims on the grounds of qualified immunity -- a typical successful defense among school administrators who claim they were acting within state-approved authority at work.
No plausible argument can be made that assigning teachers duties for instructing students, providing teaching resources, requiring use of specific teaching methods, or determining appropriate compensation which are the fundamental bases of the plaintiffs claims are somehow outside a school superintendents official duties, the district s attorneys wrote.
School officials also argued that teachers should sue over job duties in state courts, rather than in federal courts.
The teachers have asked the court to consider their case as a class-action lawsuit. The district has yet to provide an answer.
Trisha Powell Crain's Tristan Powell "Beasley et. al." v. Tuscaloosa... by Tristen Powell