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Kansas teachers who quit over virus worries face penalties

August 15, 2020 GMT

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas teachers who quit because they don’t feel safe returning to teaching in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic might have to pay their school districts up to $10,000 for backing out of their contracts.

Penalties for quitting or resigning are meant to help districts find replacement teachers, but schools must prove that their penalty fee is actually based on the cost of replacing that teacher and not just an arbitrary amount designed to punish teachers.

Educators say heading back to school seemed a lot safer before the resignation deadlines a few months ago when the coronavirus outbreak appeared nearly under control, KMUW-FM reported. The state had reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in two months and businesses were slowly reopening.

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Some educators say it’s unfair to charge teachers for escaping their contracts if the situation has changed and they no longer feel safe returning to the classroom.

Marcus Baltzell, head of communications for the Kansas National Education Association, says forcing teachers to pay could just lead to more teachers quitting eventually.

“You can claw back as much money as you want, but if you’re not careful, then what you end up with is a district with no teachers,” he said.

Usually districts ask for around $2,000, depending on how late a teacher leaves. But some districts do more. Emporia Public Schools is asking for $5,000 if a teacher resigns after August. The Syracuse school district near the Colorado border asks for $10,000.

Courts could enforce the buyout clauses or decide the contracts are no longer binding. But the pandemic might be found to justify the replacement costs because it makes it much harder and expensive to find someone willing to teach in a school building.