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West Valley music teacher breaks contract over COVID-19 concerns, district tells him to pay up

The $2,000 fee comes from a clause in the district’s teaching contract, which Peterkins says he knew about when he resigned.

PEORIA, Ariz. — Many parents are faced with tough decisions as different districts roll out different plans for the upcoming school year, but many teachers are also on edge with health and safety top of mind.

And one West Valley music teacher is being asked to pay up for not wanting to go back to the classroom.

"I was super excited," music teacher, Tavious Peterkins, said.  "There would have never been a reason for me to resign my position had it not been for the pandemic."

Peterkins said he signed on to work as a choir and band director with the Dysart Unified School district in May and put in his resignation on July 20th.

He says his wife also works as a dentist and they have a 3-year-old whose daycare is still closed.

After his resignation, the district put out their plan to have students start the year online with teachers working out of their classrooms, which Peterkins said he wouldn’t want to do with COVID-19 still spreading in Arizona.

"I can’t be responsible for bringing something home to my family," he said.

But his resignation came at a price: a $2,000 liquidation fee that he doesn’t plan to pay.

"What teacher has two thousand dollars just lying around?" he said, adding that many budgets are tighter amid the pandemic.

The fee came from a clause in the district’s teaching contract, which Peterkins said he knew about when he resigned.

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Dysart Unified Schools sent 12 News the following statement about the matter: 

"Dysart Unified School District is 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. 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 (August 4). 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."

It continues, "Dysart has developed an extensive health and safety plan to ensure the safety of our staff, including daily health screenings, temperature checks, a mask requirement and increased cleaning and disinfecting processes. We have offered our teachers a schedule that allows them to alternate between teaching in an empty classroom and teaching remotely, as well as Preschool, Learning Labs and Den Club as socially distanced childcare options for those that need it. If there is a verified medical need, ADA accommodation or Families First Coronavirus Act leave qualification, Dysart happily works to develop a plan to address those needs. We have taken every precaution for our students and staff, and are dedicated to addressing every concern to the best of our ability."

Now, Peterkins is starting his own teaching business, which he said wasn’t his reason to break his contract, but a result of it.

"The way the district was going about things was not suitable for me."