Eight educators in the Madison School District sought accommodations to teach online for the start of the 2021-22 school year due to COVID-19 and preexisting health concerns, and of those requests, five have been denied, one approved and two were pending approval, the district said Thursday.
The number of educators in the district who sought accommodations to teach online at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year was down considerably from 168 educators who sought accommodations to teach online when schools reopened in spring 2021. Of those, 148 accommodation requests were approved, 15 were denied and five resulted in alternative outcomes such as working in person with personal protective equipment or a leave of absence.
The district provided data regarding accommodations sought by teachers on Thursday in response to a records request submitted by the Wisconsin State Journal at the end of August.
The Wisconsin State Journal sought the information after a West High School Spanish teacher, Deana Zorko, spoke before the Madison School Board ahead of the start of the school year and described her experience as a choice she was being forced to make between her career and her health days before students were scheduled to return to classrooms.
Zorko, who is immunocompromised after a double organ transplant eight years ago, sought accommodations to teach her students online over the summer, well before the start of the school year, but hadn’t received a response from the district regarding approval or denial of her request.
She began the 2021-22 school year teaching her students from home through Zoom, with the help of a retired substitute teacher who facilitated in-person learning with students in the classroom. She was moved, one month into the school year, to the district’s pilot online school, Madison Promise Academy, despite having asked to teach at the online school months earlier.
The move frustrated Zorko and her students who protested what they saw as the district’s mishandling of their beloved Spanish teacher’s repeated requests for accommodations to protect her from COVID-19.
Students called out district administrators for their lack of “student-centered decision making” in a petition that garnered more than 1,100 signatures, Tamara Packard, an attorney from Pines Bach who represented Zorko, told the State Journal at the beginning of October.
Zorko was reinstated at West following the student protest and was allowed to continue to teach from home via Zoom.