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DPS teachers concerned about fall work-from-home options

A labor law attorney told 9NEWS the district has a lot to consider for its employees as students return to the classroom.

DENVER — In addition to the health of its students, Denver Public Schools has another important thing to consider as it reopens schools for students who wish to attend in-person this fall: its teachers.

Classes will resume on Aug. 17, and this week was the deadline for teachers to submit a form if they wish to work from home. The district is keeping the deadline a soft one because they know circumstances can change. Some teachers, however, are worried the form doesn't include certain situations.

Amber Wilson has been a DPS teacher for 20 years. She thought about filling out the form because her father-in-law is high risk.

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"He has chemo going, they're going to do more radiation and I'd like to be there to support them and if I have to go back to school, I won't be able to do that,” she said. “I would never risk his health.”

Wilson said when she tried to fill out the form to work from home, there was no option for someone in her situation.

"It was really frustrating because the one thing that I did need was for my husband and his needs and those aren’t accounted for here,” she said.

DPS sent 9NEWS this statement about the application process for teachers:

"The safety and health of our staff and students is our priority throughout this pandemic. To ensure that our students and staff have comfort and confidence in the safety measures in place, we closely partner with public health officials and adhere to their guidance and the relevant executive orders. We are making every effort to accommodate remote work requests by our staff who are Vulnerable Individuals and refrain from requiring them to report to a work site.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and under the governor’s current order regarding “Vulnerable Individuals,” staff may qualify for an accommodation, including working remotely. Individuals who could qualify for an accommodation include those who:

  • Are 65 years and older
  • Have chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • Have serious heart conditions
  • Are immunocompromised
  • Are pregnant women
  • Are determined to be high risk by a licensed health care provider
  • Other individuals with a recognized disability that interferes with their ability to perform the essential functions of their job during the COVID-19 pandemic."

DPS School Board member Tay Anderson said he doesn't agree with the decision to open schools in August. He did admit, however, that the district has a lot of hard decisions to make based on circumstances that are constantly changing.

"Every day is something new and we're trying to keep up with everything that's changing,” Anderson said.

You can't keep everyone happy, but Lorrie Ray, who helps employers navigate these kinds of situations, said DPS can use the law to guide the district when it comes to helping teachers decide whether they can safely do their jobs.

"DPS, that has more than 500 employees, would have to consider the FMLA, the Family and Medical Leave act and that protects you if you're ill or if you have to take care of your parent, spouse or child,” said Ray, a labor attorney who works for the Mountain States Employers Council. “And the Americans with Disabilities Act requires the employer to accommodate you if you personally are disabled for some reason and returning to the workplace would pose some sort of threat to you."

With several weeks before school starts, DPS has a lot of circumstances to consider.

"It's very difficult for employers, they care about their employees they want to do the right thing and they have obligations they have to meet at the same time so it's very difficult," Ray said.

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