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Queen Creek teacher told she can’t return to her classroom following leave

Sylvia Cruz Torres poses with a current student at Silver Valley Elementary School. (Courtesy photo)

PHOENIX — A Queen Creek preschool teacher is fighting to return to school after she was told she couldn’t return to her classroom after she took some time off.

Sylvia Cruz Torres teaches at Silver Valley Elementary School in the Queen Creek Unified School District. She was in the classroom the first week of in-person classes, which began Aug. 17, before she took two weeks leave to help her own children who were struggling with online learning.

When Torres tried to go back, the district’s human resources department told her she couldn’t return. Instead, she was given the option to teach preschool or eighth grade English at a different school.

“All I want is my classroom back,” Torres told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“I want my students that I’ve already established, that I have connections with,” she added. “I have some returning students that I have established and connected with their families. I’d like to go back and teach them.”

It’s unclear if the substitute teacher who took over during Torres’ time off will continue teaching the class or if another teacher will take over. Torres said the district posted her position for hire right after she went on leave.

In an email, Queen Creek Unified School District stated it’s following regulations under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which includes assigning an employee to an equivalent job with the same pay and benefits upon return from leave.

But Patrick Camuñez, Torres’ attorney argues otherwise.

“When you take it all together, now we’re going to have a new supervisor, we’re going to have a new school, we’re going to have a new base of students,” he said. “That can all be seen as adverse employment action, so this person is being punished for taking that leave.”

Camuñez said he’s representing three other teachers from the district who are facing similar situations. He said they took leave because they were afraid they’d be exposed to the coronavirus in their classrooms. Now, they’re struggling to get their classrooms back.

“The district is moving them around,” he said. “It’s essentially telling other teachers that if you take this kind of leave, we’re going to move you classrooms, we’re going to move you schools.”

Camuñez said all teachers, including Torres, have filed complaints with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Department of Labor.

For now, Torres said she remains on leave but is hoping to get her classroom back soon.

“The only thing that I’m really looking for here is to go back to my original position with the parents that I love that are expecting me back,” she said.

One of those parents started an online petition in support of Torres getting her classroom back. As of Wednesday evening, it has gotten more than 500 signatures.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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