Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Back to School, Virtual, or Hybrid? What’s Working and What Isn’t?


 First, I want to take a minute to tell all school employees THANK YOU! I can only imagine how difficult the spring semester and “The Summer of Worry” were and how much stress you are enduring at the start of the new year.

As you know, I live in the Rio Grande Valley, where public schools remain closed for the time being. Every day, I hear from teachers who tell me they are staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning to complete attendance, to grade, and to provide for the next day’s synchronous or asynchronous lesson. I also hear from friends who teach in other parts of Texas and in other states where students are back in school. They share tales of the latest round of quarantines, some excellent practices in place, and phases of reopening.

Our cafeteria heroes continue to provide breakfast and lunch to students each day--with the help of our school bus drivers--even in sweltering heat and pouring rain, just as they did throughout the most frightening days of the pandemic, Our custodians have worked tirelessly to prepare our schools for reopening and have undergone training for this new level of sanitization. Our administrative teams and all other team members are riding together on this pandemic roller coaster.

I would love to hear from YOU—teachers, support staff, librarians, counselors, UIL coaches/sponsors, administrators, and all other school employees. I would also love to hear from parents and students. This is what I would like to know, either in the comments below this post or, if you prefer, by sending me an email:

1.      1. In what district do you work?

2.      2. Is your school open for f2f instruction, completely virtual, or following a hybrid plan?

3.      3. What IS working that other schools/districts should consider emulating, keeping the two most important goals in mind: the education of our children and the safety of students and employees?

4.      4. What is NOT working, and what solutions can you offer?

5.      5. Does your school/district have community partners providing assistance in any way/shape/form? If yes, who are those partners and how are they helping?

Let’s share Best Practices and “Stop That Right Nows!” (Yes, I am fully aware that “nows” is not a word, yet it is exactly what I mean!)

While I understand the level of anxiety and angst, I am asking that the dialogue remain respectful. My goal is for all of us to help each other get through this COVID craziness. As my mom always says, “This, too, shall pass.” Not soon enough, but it WILL pass!

BONUS SECTION

            I have decided to try two new things this “season.”

First, I would like to share some mental-health resources I use and others I want to try and invite you to check them out, especially during this highly stressful, emotional time:


1. Podcasts to try: Hay House Meditations; Inspire Nation; The Happiness Lab

2. Mental Health and COVID-19 Resources

Do you have others you would like to share?  If so, please do!

Second, I know many teachers and other school employees have a “side hustle” to earn extra money and to share your talents!  I thought it would be great to share those in order to support our fellow educators. (Always remember that when I use the term “educators,” I am referring to ALL school employees! We are a team!)

I would like to start Educator Side Hustle off with two:

1.      1. My former student, Katherine, is now a special-education teacher in Corpus Christi and a single mom who recently opened an online shop with her popular home-sewn products  and other great items:  Check out Full Moon Junkyard and give this fellow educator’s page a like on Facebook!

2.      2. Teacher Courtney Jones, who started the #clearthelist movement, is still teaching while running the new nonprofit ClearTheList Foundation, which offers grants and all sorts of other opportunities for teachers. Check out the Foundation’s website, too!


Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now works as a freelance writer and editor and remains committed to education and educators. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com. (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Thursday, July 2, 2020

School Districts in Texas and Beyond Begin Introducing 2020-2021 Learning Options


            School districts across the state are stuck in a conundrum. While planning for a new school year is normally well underway by now, district leaders are walking an unenviable tightrope. COVID-19-positive numbers are rising dramatically across most of the country, and no one knows when this trend will end. As a result, districts that have developed learning options for the 2020-2021 school year may have to shift gears in the coming weeks.
            Should district leaders develop plans now that may very well need to be changed or should they wait until late July to see what the numbers look like then? To develop or not to develop, that is the question. I honestly don’t think there is a definitive answer on this one. Plans developed now can, obviously, be adjusted. It seems to me that adjusting a plan would be far easier than trying to fully develop one in the final hour.
            I have read plans from a number of districts, and I decided to create an evolving list of these plans. This will allow educators, parents, students, and district leaders to look at other options for comparison and for ideas and inspiration. I will continue to add plans to this list.
            I will also continue posting information coming from Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and from local/state/national leaders, as well as any other information I see that could be beneficial when designing the 2020-2021 school year.
            Teachers and parents—I continue to urge you to reach out to your district leaders NOW to let them know where YOU stand on these options. It’s far better to be proactive than reactive. I also want to encourage you to find time to relax and to have some fun over the summer. Spending the entire summer worrying about what 2020-2021 holds is unhealthy, to say the least.
            I will leave you with a quotation I came across recently that fits perfectly with our current situation:  Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.


Rio Grande Valley

IDEA Public Schools

McAllen ISD

PSJA ISD

Texas - Outside the RGV

Clear Creek ISD

Other States

Arizona

Laveen, AZ (Laveen School District)

Mesa, AZ (Mesa Public Schools)

Illinois

Peoria, IL (District 150)

Iowa

Des Moines, IA (Des Moines Public Schools)

Communication from Mike Morath and Government Officials

COVID-19 - Mike Morath's Calls with Texas Superintendents (Hit the "SUBSCRIBE" button on this page if you want to be notified when new videos post)


Related Information

National Blue Ribbon Schools:  Effective Distance Learning Strategies

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

School-District Employees, Parents, and Students - YOU are Part of the Returning-to-School Solution


            School-district employees, parents, and high-school students…are you listening?  If you are, then it’s time to take the next step by chiming in to your district administrators and school-board members. As I’m sure you are aware, some important (and tough) decisions are being formulated right now regarding the plans for returning to school.
            At 3:00 this afternoon, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is expected to deliver guidance from the Texas Education Agency to school districts throughout the state.  (Similar conversations are happening across the country, of course.) Quite a bit of speculation has been swirling around in anticipation for this guidance, which was expected last Monday…then Tuesday…and now today.
            Here in Hidalgo County, facial masks are required inside all businesses.  Social (or, as some prefer to call it, “proper”) distancing is still encouraged/expected, and here, the number of people testing positive is definitely on the rise. The speculation seems to be that the State of Texas will offer a lot of latitude to districts regarding “to wear, or not to wear” masks and social distancing in classrooms, in hallways/cafeterias/libraries/auditoriums, and on school buses. If this speculation is on point, that leaves those decisions up to the districts, and if I were a current district employee, parent, or student, I would want to provide input. That’s why I am encouraging you to do so.
            I attend (in person, normally, but right now, virtually) all McAllen ISD School Board meetings and report on them for McAllen AFT. I am also currently serving on the Donna ISD Task Force, exploring options for students to return to school and for employees to return to work. Lately, I find myself pausing throughout these meetings, reminding myself that “this, too, shall pass” because it truly is an overwhelming challenge, unlike any most of us have ever experienced. It is like this gigantic puzzle that needs to be put together in a short period of time…but several of the pieces needed to complete it are missing.
            When will the rise in positive cases and hospitalizations end? What happens if a student or employee on campus tests positive? Who will do all of the extra sanitizing that is going to be so important? Are there enough teachers to teach students on campus, as well as those who choose to stay home?  (I doubt there will be many districts offering only on-campus education as they are likely opening themselves up to losing a large number of students.) And, let’s be honest, how are districts going to be able to pay for all of this?
            What do I suggest you do right now?
1. Breathe!  Anxiety causes problems of its own, so breathe, first, and then get involved in the process.
2. Listen/read Mike Morath’s guidance to school superintendents. I have been told it should be posted on the Moak Casey & Associates YouTube page by this evening.  If not, watch all of the news alerts certain to come out this evening.
3. Once you know what the guidance from TEA is, contact your local school administrators and/or school-board members to provide your input. Many districts currently have parent surveys about returning to school. If you are a parent and your district has one available, did you complete and submit it?
4. If you are a district employee who has an underlying medical condition, you need to notify your administrators as soon as possible with that information. You will likely need a letter from your doctor, though that has not been made official, as far as I know. In the MISD School Board meetings, administrators have said they will need to provide “reasonable accommodations” for employees with underlying medical conditions. Your doctor may want to suggest accommodations.
5. IF this is not addressed in the guidelines, this is a critical step:  Contact Mike Morath, Governor Abbott, and your local legislators and tell them how critical it is for ADA (Average Daily Attendance) to continue to be counted for students learning from home. If it isn’t, school districts will lose funding for every one of those students while still having the responsibility of educating them. Texas could also join the vast majority of states across the nation that base funding on enrollment rather than on attendance. That would be another solution.  When you contact them, you may also want to push for “NO STAAR,” in light of this COVID conundrum.
a.       Texas Education Agency Commissioner, Mike Morath at commissioner@tea.texas.gov or 512-463-9734
b.      Office of the Governor Greg Abbott at 512-463-1782 or https://gov.texas.gov/apps/contact/opinion.aspx
c.       To find your representatives in the Texas Legislature, click here: https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home
6. Remember school is not scheduled to start until August. In this ever-changing environment, numbers could look much different by then. As I have heard over and over, “the situation is fluid.” 
7. Most of the educators with whom I have spoken WANT to return to school. Parents, too, need to return to work and to their normal routines. It will happen……but in the meantime, if any situation ever required a village, this is it.  Providing intelligent, calmly delivered, fact-based input now is so much more productive than anger after decisions have been made.

Once you have chosen to become part of the solution, remember that it’s summer. Enjoy
a family picnic (or even a picnic-for-one) in your back yard. Go for a walk at your neighborhood park. Go shopping at some of your locally owned shops.
Hopefully, before summer is over, we will all be able to safely enjoy a weekend getaway or an actual vacation.
            This, too, shall pass.  Until then---be the solution!

NOTE:  I will post follow-up documentation on this underneath in the comments. 

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com. (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Monday, April 6, 2020

Educators, Parents, and Students: We RISE UP!


            From the start, let me be clear.  When I talk about “educators,” I am referring to everyone who works in our school system.  Teachers and classroom aides may be the ones educating students in the classroom, but bus drivers, cafeteria staff, counselors, librarians, custodians, office staff, sign-language interpreters, maintenance staff, administrators, nurses, speech-and-language pathologists, diagnosticians, substitute teachers, and everyone else in our schools plays a critical role in educating our students. 
            Few, if any, saw this current situation coming.  Though many of us were watching the COVID-19 story unfold in other countries, I doubt most of us had any idea we would be following directives to stay home, searching for sources for masks and gloves, educating all students virtually, and watching a true partnership between teachers and parents develop before our eyes.
            Years ago, I read the book On Death and Dying by Dr. Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross.  It was fascinating as she outlined the steps one goes through when diagnosed with a terminal illness.  I have gone through these stages myself when I have lost someone I love.
            As I watched my friends—some who are teachers, some who are parents of school-aged children, and some who are both—deal with the sudden reality of school closing indefinitely, I soon realized many of them, too, were going through these stages:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  I think I can say the same for many/most of our children.
            What I love is that acceptance did not take as long as it could have. Parents, some deemed “essential” who still must go to work, some who are working from home, and some who have been laid off indefinitely, were suddenly thrust into the role of homeschool teacher, or, some might say, administrator/counselor/teacher/support staff.  Teachers, all at varying levels of digital fluency, had to step into the role of virtual teacher almost overnight, as our cafeteria staff adjusted to Meals on Wheels, our administrators had to figure out how to oversee this distance learning while motivating staff, parents, and teachers, and many other members of  Team Education took on new, unchartered roles, too.
            But, as Andra Day sings in Rise Up,
And I’ll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
And I’ll rise up
High like the waves
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I'll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you…
All we need, all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other

            Instead of saying, “Together, we can,” I say, “Together, WE ARE!”

Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen countless posts about great resources that have been made available for our students/teachers/parents for as long as #RiseUp continues.  Here are several I just had to share.  (They are linked):

500 Free Online Courses From Ivy League Schools That Will Make You Smarter (and Less Stir Crazy)  Got time to kill? Check out these classes from the likes of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.









These Education Companies Are Offering Free Subscriptions to Parents During School Closures (including Audible, Rosetta Stone, Khan Academy, Scholastic, Mystery Science, and more!)


Welcome to Art For Kids Hub! - Here you’ll find all kinds of art lessons for kids, including how to draw for kids, even painting and origami for kids.

I would be remiss if I did not also share some links to mental-health resources, as well.  This has been difficult for children and adults alike. You’re not alone.



Ten Percent Happier LIVE, Live guided meditation + a virtual break from social distancing.
Free. Every weekday at 2 p.m. (and videotaped for viewing at any time)

Finally, I would like to share this video sent to me this afternoon by Alex Trevino, director of McHi Mariachi, six-time state champions, from McAllen High School, where I ended my teaching career.  Videos like this speak to me of resilience, of finding a way, of strength, of courage, of community, and of love.

Parents, Educators, and Students:  If YOU have resources you have discovered and/or if you have videos to share of #RISINGUP, please post the links in the comments under this blog post!  I do not say, “Together, we can.”  I say, “TOGETHER, WE ARE!”

 Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com. (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

TRS Officials Respond to My Open Records Request Regarding 2021 Health-Care Changes

            Monday, February 24, I filed an Open Records Request with the Teachers Retirement System of Texas regarding the 2021 health-care changes for both active and retired public-ed employees who are covered under TRS health-insurance plans.  My questions are based on questions TRS members began posing when the announcement was made two weeks ago that TRS retirees under the age of 65 would be moving from Aetna to Blue Cross Blue Shield and those over 65 would move out of Humana and into United Healthcare in January of 2021.
            Below are the questions (Q) I asked in my ORR and the responses (R) I received today from TRS:


Q: Are these plans already fully developed?  (ATTENTION ALL CURRENT PUBLIC-ED EMPLOYEES ON TRS ACTIVECARE!!!)

R: TRS-Care and TRS-Care Medicare Advantage rates and benefits will not change through 2021. The 86th Texas Legislature appropriated $231 million to keep TRS-Care premiums the same through 2021, and the added savings from the contracts allows TRS to support this commitment.
The TRS board will hear recommendations for TRS-ActiveCare benefits and rates at its meeting on April 16-17, 2020. While we were able to secure considerable savings for TRS-ActiveCare from the vendor transition, the program, like most other employer groups in the U.S., faces rising health care prices. We are currently reviewing the past year’s claims experience to project future health care expenses and will take those projections along with the contract savings into account as we finalize rates and benefits for TRS-ActiveCare. We encourage you to tune into the board meeting to hear the discussion. The agenda will be posted a few weeks in advance so you can determine which day the discussion will occur.
(MY NOTE:  Those of you who currently work in districts covered by TRS-ActiveCare, THIS IS YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO BE HEARD!  Contact TRS board members NOW, before their board meeting April 16-17.  Tell board members your stories now!  Contact TRS Board members through their secretary, Katherine Farrell at katherine.farrell@trs.texas.gov.


Q: Were current and retired TRS members part of the selection process?

R: Current and retired TRS members are not directly part of the vendor selection process; however, the evaluation team that reviewed proposals considers our members’ needs across a broad range of categories including financial savings, provider networks, customer service, communications, disease management, and clinical programs.
TRS goes through a rigorous process to select vendors. The process to select medical plan administrators was complex and took more than a year. Our goal was to select medical plan administrators who could meet our enhanced requirements for member satisfaction and care, accessibility, quality, and value. Ultimately, the team recommended to the board the administrators we knew could bring the most value and highest quality of care to our members.
Throughout the contract term, these administrators will conduct participant satisfaction surveys to make sure our members are satisfied with the plans. Following the board’s vendor awards announcement, the TRS staff work with the vendor the board selects to execute a contract that reflects the board’s decision, which is how major procurement processes are conducted.


Q:  Were/Are current and retired TRS members playing a role in developing the plans?

R: See above regarding TRS-Care – rates and benefits will be staying the same through 2021.
Over the past several months, TRS’ has met with school district chief financial officers, human resource directors, and assistant superintendents to engage in a dialogue about how we can
transform TRS-ActiveCare. This major effort is the first of its kind in the program’s near-two-decade existence. We are listening to our stakeholders and providing them with financial and health insights that paint a clear picture of the challenges facing the program. We will present recommendations for TRS-ActiveCare to the board in April that reflect the feedback we’ve received from districts as part of this initiative. We believe that, together, we can make this the program public school communities across Texas value.


Q: If they are NOT fully developed, how can TRS members provide PROACTIVE advice/feedback?

R: TRS members and retirees can always send us feedback to healthcarecomm@trs.texas.gov.
TRS-ActiveCare participants can also communicate the information to their district leaders or benefit administrators.
The TRS-Care Retirees Advisory Committee (RAC) holds public meetings on group coverage, recommends to TRS minimum standards and plan features, and recommends to TRS changes to rules and legislation affecting TRS-Care. The RAC periodically has open seats available for nomination. The committee meets at least twice a year in Austin and provides updates to the TRS Board of Trustees.


CALL TO ACTION!  SPEAK UP or REMAIN SILENT!
The choice is OURS!

TRS ActiveCare Members
Read the first question and answer above.  The TRS Board meets April 16-17 and will discuss YOUR plan! 
·         Send an email
·         Attend the meetings and sign up to speak
·         Submit letters to the editor of your local newspaper(s)
·         Tell your stories to your local television news stations
·         Speak up about your current premiums, benefits, and out-of-pocket costs


TRS Retirees, under and over 65:
Look at the last question and response.  This is our chance to provide feedback before our plans are set in stone.

I am submitting a second ORR to TRS this evening with a few other questions that have arisen.  This is how to file one.  I always go the email route.  Stay tuned for the responses I receive.

In the meantime, LET’S GET TO WORK!

*To get alerts when my new blog posts are published, simply look over to the right at "Followers" and click on "Follow."  It's that easy!

 Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com. (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Monday, February 24, 2020

Public-Ed Employees and Retirees: JOINING VOICES AND FORCES!



            This blog post is definitely a bullet-point post because so much has been happening that we all need to know about. Click on the links for more information on each topic.  Here goes:

· In case you didn’t hear, after heavy-duty public outcry, as well as pushback from several Texas legislators, TRS scrapped its plans to move into Indeed Tower in Austin at a cost of $326,000 per MONTH.  This, my TRS counterparts, is a PERFECT EXAMPLE of what can be done when we join VOICES and FORCES to fight!

· When are Texas legislators going to change the name—not the acronym, which would likely complicate things more than we care to imagine—of TRS?  It is one of the greatest misnomers in education in our state because it belies who its members are.  TRS is NOT just about teachers, though its official name is TEACHER Retirement System of Texas. TRS is actually the retirement system for our bus drivers, cafeteria workers, counselors, secretaries, librarians, maintenance staff, custodians, classroom aides, all other auxiliary staff, and administrators.  Which legislator can we count on to submit a bill for the 2021 Legislative Session to change this?  Who has ideas what TRS can stand for that will be true to ALL of the system’s members?  (I find it strange that even the TRS website is not clear about who its members are, rather having only this on its “About TRS” page (italics and bold mine)):  ​​​​​​The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is the largest public retirement system in Texas, serving more than 1.5 million people. Innovation, technology, and collaboration make the difference as we strive to continue earning your trust every day.  This may seem like a technicality; however, when I think of the effect making my health care UNaffordable and receiving no COLA has had on me, I can only imagine what it has been like for my colleagues who receive much less than I do in their pension checks.  Changing the name—again, not the acronym—for this system would serve as a constant reminder of who its members are.

· Both retiree organizations to which I belong—Texas AFT Retiree Plus and Texas Retired Teachers Association—have identified health care and a COLA (Cost-Of-Living Adjustment) as our top priorities in the 2020 General Election and in the 2021 Texas Legislative Session.  At the very least, the Texas Legislature needs to ROLL BACK the health-care plan for TRS retirees under the age of 65. It is a classic case of bait and switch. I retired in 2013 and signed on to TRS-Care.  You see, throughout my 29-year teaching career, I was promised affordable health care when I retired.  I paid $285 per month because I chose the high plan.  I had a $400 deductible and had affordable co-pays when I went to the doctor or I had a prescription to fill. I had budgeted for this before I retired, so like most of my retired colleagues, I did fine.  But that all changed during the 2017 Texas Legislative Session when Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and the majority of the Texas Legislature robbed us of the promise.  My premium was reduced to $200 per month because all of us under 65 (remember—TRS is NOT just about teachers) were forced into a high-deductible plan.  My deductible went from $400 to $1500, and I was stripped of my co-pays. I have to pay 100 percent of all medical costs (doctor/hospital visits AND prescriptions—unless the prescription is on a list of “standard, generic drugs) out of pocket until I reach the entire $1500.  For my colleagues who have a spouse on their plan, they must pay $3000 out of pocket—NOT $1500 per person—before their TRS insurance for retirees under 65 pays a penny.  And if this slap in the face were not enough, they made the mark from that slap indelible by keeping the insurance for retired LEGISLATORS more than affordable!  Their premium is $0 per month.  Their deductible (and check out their co-pays on this link, too) for health care is $0 and for prescriptions, $50 (I cannot find a link for this?). We are going to be LOUD AND CLEAR this November and during the 2021 Legislative Session because so many of us have stopped getting the medical exams we need because we cannot afford them.  ROLLBACK OUR HEALTH CARE!

· Only the Texas Legislature can authorize a COLA, and a pension fund must be actuarially sound before it can do so.  As of the 2019 Legislative Session, TRS has been made actuarially sound.  (Although it was long overdue, most of us remain grateful.)  As you may know, people on Social Security receive an automatic annual COLA.  Not so for TRS retirees.  The last COLA was provided in 2013.  It was a three-percent increase but was capped at an additional $100 per month, AND it was only provided to TRS members who retired before August 31, 2004.  Do you see what that means?  That means anyone who retired after August 31, 2004—16 years ago—has NEVER had a COLA!  Now take a look at the Consumer Price Index for that period. How in the world are retirees expected to make ends meet?  (Remember—in Texas, public-education employees are not allowed to pay into Social Security unless we have jobs outside of education, so the TRS pension is the only retirement income for most TRS members.)  I received a letter from TRS dated January 17, 2020, to let me know I would see a 30-CENT increase in my 2020 pension check, and I am not kidding! 

TRS retirees are calling upon our legislators to ROLLBACK our AFFORDABLE health care and to provide us with a long-overdue COLA during the 2021 Legislative Session.  All current candidates should be asked about this before the General Election in November, and all members of the Texas Legislature should be asked—by us and those who support us—if THEY are going to sponsor the bills to accomplish this!
There’s more to come soon.  Stay tuned….and STAY INFORMED!

In the next blog post, coming soon—The announcement last week from TRS that the providers will change January 1, 2021, for all of us on TRS-ActiveCare, TRS-Care Standard, and TRS-Care Medicare Eligible, as well as details about the federal Social Security Fairness Act.

 Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com. (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Monday, December 16, 2019

Texas Public-Ed Retirees Over 65 Also Suffering Due to Health Care Nightmare - PART II

NOTE:  This is the second in a multi-part series about the 2017 Texas Legislature and the devastating effects of their decision to create a healthcare nightmare for public-ed retirees across the state.  Part I focused on a retired teacher under the age of 65.  The follow-up to her story will likely be Part III; however, I am waiting for her situation to be resolved before her medication runs out in January.  And there are plenty more stories to tell.

            I read a November post by a woman named Margaret on the Retired Texas Educators with TRS/Retirement Concerns Facebook page.  (Just the fact that there is such a page speaks volumes about what the Texas Legislature has done to us.)  Here is Margaret's post:


              The post moved me to tears.  How in the world could a retired public-ed employee, promised throughout her career that she would have affordable health care in her retirement, be denied a walker she NEEDED due to multiple broken bones?  Who will answer for the two falls she took as a result of being denied this walker, the first causing her to break her right foot and damage the bones in the foot and ankle of the other leg severely damaged in the original fall, the second causing injury to one shoulder, both feet, one wrist, and her back?  I cannot even imagine the pain she must have endured then and must still be enduring daily. 
            “If I were the only one who has suffered needlessly because of delays and denials, I could accept it, but there are so many like me….Please pray for all retired teachers who are dealing with this and are too old and too whipped to fight this.  Why should I have to fight so hard to get equipment that would have prevented fractures and back and shoulder injuries?” 
            Inexcusable.  Heartbreaking. Shameful.  And true.  Why, indeed? 
            I reached out to Margaret, asking permission to share her story.  She immediately said yes, hoping that by sharing her story—and the stories of so many others—our legislators would finally listen and give us the health care they have so generously given THEIR retired counterparts, most of whom spent far less time in the Texas Legislature than we spent in classrooms, driving school buses, serving meals to students, cleaning school facilities….
            I asked Margaret how this all started.  She explained that after her original fall caused by stepping in an armadillo hole, she went to see an orthopedic surgeon.  Humana would not approve the boot the surgeon said she needed, despite three broken bones in her ankle.  Instead, she was told, she would need the nursing home--where she was sent after the fall--to provide her with a boot.  At the nursing home, Margaret was told they do not normally do this.  They ordered one, but it did not fit her properly. Later, she had surgery to set the broken bones.  The surgeon wanted her to spend the night; again Humana denied it.  She had to be taken back to the nursing home by ambulance, and she said she screamed in agony throughout the next day.  “I needed hospital care,” Margaret told me.
            Later, when she was released to go home, Margaret had a sprained wrist and shoulder and could not use a standard walker.  The orthopedic surgeon made it clear she needed a platform walker.  Humana denied it, their third denial for something Margaret’s surgeon insisted she needed.


            You know from Margaret’s post above what happened next.  Only after suffering two more devastating falls did Humana approve her platform walker.
            “No one should suffer like I did,” Margaret told me.
            And in one of her follow-up posts, she wrote:  “All the medical professionals told me to switch to Medicare and a supplement because of Humana’s horrible coverage.  I am switching.”
            This, Margaret, is your reward for dedicating your life to Texas students.

 Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com. (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)