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Arizona teacher fined $2,000 for quitting over in-person school reopenings

The Hill logo The Hill 8/6/2020 Marina Pitofsky
a dining room table: Arizona teacher fined $2,000 for quitting over in-person school reopenings © Istock Arizona teacher fined $2,000 for quitting over in-person school reopenings

An Arizona teacher is facing a $2,000 fine from a school district after quitting his job over health concerns amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Tavious Peterkin was set to teach his first year at Dysart Unified School District in Arizona this month. Peterkin has been an educator for 15 years, and he was hired to teach band and chorus, "Good Morning America" reported.

The educator said he was first told to prepare virtual lessons and that in-person instruction would begin in October in the state. Arizona schools reopened Tuesday with a rotating schedule, in which teachers instruct from home one day and from an empty classroom the next.

"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," Peterkin told "Good Morning America."

Peterkin told the outlet he typically instructs 50 to 70 students. However, students cannot wear masks or face coverings to stem the spread of the virus and play certain instruments or sing in band and chorus class.

The teacher told "Good Morning America" that he suggested teaching music theory in the fall semester and that he brought his concerns to the principal on July 10, who directed it to human resources. Peterkin resigned on July 20 after not hearing from human resources.

"I love kids and I'm very passionate about what I do," Peterkin said. "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."

However, the teacher said there is a "liquidation damage clause" in his contract that requires him to pay $2,000 to Dysart Unified School District following his resignation.

"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 told "Good Morning America."

The district said in a statement to the outlet that "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."

"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 district continued.

It said that Peterkin signed his contract in May, after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The educator has launched his own online school aimed at homeschooling as the pandemic continues.

Earlier this year, three Arizona teachers in Gila County tested positive for COVID-19 and one died after teaching virtual courses from the same room, Phoenix ABC affiliate KNXV reported.

Arizona has confirmed at least 183,647 COVID-19 cases and more than 4,000 fatalities as of Thursday.

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