Arizona teacher who resigned over COVID-19 fears faces fine

PHOENIX (AP) — A Phoenix-area music teacher who resigned after being told he’d have to be on campus to teach virtual classes amid the pandemic is facing a $2,000 fine.

The Dysart Unified School District is set to charge Tavious Peterkin, a music teacher at an El Mirage school, to release him from his contract, the Arizona Republic reported.

Such a fee is common in Arizona school districts. Because the state is in a long-running teacher shortage, it’s harder to find educators to fill vacant positions. Districts charge the fee to educators who suddenly quit to cover the costs of hiring someone new.

But Peterkin’s case raises questions over whether fees are fair in a pandemic. Peterkin said he thought he would be excused from paying to leave because of COVID-19.

Renee Ryon, a spokesperson with the district, could not speak about Peterkin’s specific situation. She said the district can be flexible with the fee in the case of a medical situation. But, it must enforce the fee if exceptions don’t apply, even in a pandemic, because they need to make sure classrooms are staffed.

Peterkin said he worried about being in a school building around other teachers. His family knows people who died from the virus.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.