This teacher resigned over COVID-19 concerns. Then he was fined $2,000.

"I felt at peace when I came to the decision."

August 05, 2020, 4:58 PM

An Arizona teacher has left his job during the novel coronavirus pandemic after his district required all educators to return to the classroom for virtual learning.

Tavious Peterkin, from Surprise, Arizona, was scheduled to begin his first year at Dysart Unified School District. Peterkin has been teaching for 15 years and was hired to teach band and choir.

Peterkin said he was told to prepare to teach virtual learning inside the classroom starting in August, and face-to-face instruction would begin sometime in October.

"That right there was what did it for me," Peterkin told "Good Morning America." "It was the face-to-face instruction that was the major red flag. Teaching virtually from the classroom setting did raise some concerns for me."

Since Arizona's statewide reopening May 15, it's seen a surge in reported coronavirus cases. In late July, Arizona's health department said nearly 90% of intensive care units were full.

The state has had at least 180,505 confirmed cases total with new daily cases reaching 1,008 this week.

PHOTO: Tavious Peterkin, a teacher from Surprise, Arizona, is seen in an undated photo with his wife, Jessica.
Tavious Peterkin, a teacher from Surprise, Arizona, is seen in an undated photo with his wife, Jessica.
Tavious Peterkin

Gov. Doug Ducey pushed back the reopening of schools after initially announcing Aug. 3 as the start for in-person instruction. Instead, schools reopened Tuesday with a rotating schedule. Teachers will instruct students from home one day and from an empty classroom the next day.

Ducey has threatened to withhold funding from schools that don't open for in-person instruction to at least some students -- such as those with special needs -- by Aug. 17.

In June, three Arizona teachers in Gila County tested positive for the coronavirus and one of them died after teaching virtual courses from the same room, despite following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, according to Phoenix ABC affiliate KNXV.

"The more I heard about it, the more I'm thinking, 'I don't know if I could do this,'" Peterkin said of hearing about fellow educators in the state contracting the virus. "My wife said, 'I'm not OK with you going.' Then, I have my mom and dad in my other ear saying, 'We don't want you to do this.'"

Peterkin said he normally instructs 50 to 70 students. His district has declared all staff and students must wear masks or protective shields and maintain a distance 6 feet apart.

In the case of Peterkin's students, kids cannot physically wear masks and play certain instruments or sing at the same time. The University of Iowa Health Care said there is concern that singers and wind instrument players might be at additional risk for spreading COVID-19. One of those risks is the production of droplets or aerosol that may be transmitted during a wind performance, though more studies still need to be done.

PHOTO: Tavious Peterkin, a resident of Surprise, Arizona, was scheduled to begin his first year at Dysart Unified School District before resigning due to COVID-19. Peterkin has been teaching for 15 years and was hired to teach band and choir.
Tavious Peterkin, a resident of Surprise, Arizona, was scheduled to begin his first year at Dysart Unified School District before resigning due to COVID-19. Peterkin has been teaching for 15 years and was hired to teach band and choir.
Tavious Peterkin

Peterkin said he suggested teaching music theory as an alternative by incorporating lessons through math and science. He added that many of his students excelled in the at-home, virtual-learning model.

Peterkin said he also brought his health and safety concerns to the principal on July 10, who passed them along to human resources. Peterkin never heard back from the district, and he resigned July 20 -- two days before his scheduled orientation, he said.

"I love kids and I'm very passionate about what I do," Peterkin added. "Had there not been a pandemic, I would've never resigned. I was excited about making my mark in a new district. I was going to be building the program. It meant a lot to me to be there."

Peterkin said there is a liquidation damage clause in his contract that requires him to pay $2,000 to Dysart Unified School District since he broke the agreement.

"My thinking was, we are in a global pandemic where people are losing their lives left and right. The protocols you've set in place will not keep me from getting [COVID-19] and bringing it home to my family, so why do I have to pay you $2,000, when you haven't paid me anything?" he added.

PHOTO: Tavious Peterkin, a resident of Surprise, Arizona, was scheduled to begin his first year at Dysart Unified School District. Peterkin has been teaching for 15 years and was hired to teach band and choir.
Tavious Peterkin, a resident of Surprise, Arizona, was scheduled to begin his first year at Dysart Unified School District. Peterkin has been teaching for 15 years and was hired to teach band and choir. Here, Peterkin is seen engaging in an activity with his 3-year-old son.
Tavious Peterkin

In a statement to "GMA," the Dysart Unified School District said it's "committed to providing a high quality education to all students, and a large part of that requires a dedicated staff."

"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," the statement said. "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 one."

The statement continued, "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."

PHOTO: Tavious Peterkin, a resident of Surprise, Arizona, was scheduled to begin his first year at Dysart Unified School District.
Tavious Peterkin, a resident of Surprise, Arizona, was scheduled to begin his first year at Dysart Unified School District. Peterkin has been teaching for 15 years and was hired to teach band and choir. Peterkin resigned his teaching position on July 20 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Tavious Peterkin

In regards to Peterkin's contract, the district said he agreed to the liquidated damages by signing his contract on May 16, when COVID-19 was already rampant in Arizona. The district said it upheld its end of the agreement by holding the position for Peterkin before he resigned over COVID-19 and child care challenges. The district stated it's offering a preschool program to staff to fill child care needs.

Peterkin said he and his wife do not feel comfortable sending their 3-year-old son to day care since his facility closed amid the pandemic.

"I felt at peace when I came to the decision," Peterkin said. "I can't bring anything home to my family. We have a 3-year-old, and he's our only child."

Peterkin, who is pursuing Ph.D. in education, is now launching his own online school geared toward homeschooling.

He said he hopes to offer live instruction on all subjects for grades 3 to 8.

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