PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- An Arizona music teacher claims he's being treated unfairly and it could cost him a substantial amount of money.

Tavious Peterkin opted out of the fall semester because of COVID-19,  then got hit with a $2,000 fine.

Peterkin has been teaching music for the past 15 years as a choir and band instructor.

"It's about the students and being able to see them and their joy through me, giving them the knowledge I have," said Peterkin.

Back in May, Peterkin accepted a new job teaching music with the Dysart Unified School District.

Two months later, he resigned, citing fears about the coronavirus and in-person learning scheduled for the fall.

He worried that teaching kids to sing and play instruments could not be done safely in the classroom.

"Absolutely too much risk for my students, too much risk for myself, our families," said Peterkin. "We didn't want to bring anything back to our families, so that was the main concern, health for all of us."

Peterkin said he was pretty distraught after making the decision not to teach this semester.

Then he got word that his decision to resign would cost him money.

The school district notified Peterkin that he owed them $2,000 for breaking his contract and violating the "liquidation damages clause."

"It does seem a little petty to me, simply because had it not been for this pandemic, which is out of our control, I would never have resigned my position," said Peterkin. "I looked forward to going to most of this community and this particular school."

The Dysart Unified School District released this statement:

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. 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.

In Tavious Peterkin’s case, he signed a professional contract and agreed to the liquidated damages on May 16, when COVID was already rampant in Arizona. We upheld our end of the agreement by holding the position for him. Just two months later (July 20) he resigned, leaving an immediate opening at a school that started classes August 4. Mr. Peterkin has stated his reason for resigning is fears over COVID and childcare challenges. Our district offers a discounted preschool program to our staff that would fill his childcare need. We have been extremely understanding and responsive to staff concerns, and have allowed teachers to teach from an empty, disinfected classroom, on a schedule that alternates between teaching from home and in class every other day.

There are some conditions where we will waive the liquidated damages fee, such as medical conditions, retirement or out of state moves, and we have approved 31 individuals for a waived fee already this year. Eleven others have chosen to pay the fee to get out of their contracts for reasons not approved by the Governing Board. We wish Mr. Peterkin the best in his endeavors, but when an employee wants to resign their position to work at another school or organization, it does not qualify them for a waiver of liquidated damages.

"I am hoping that they will reconsider and do the right thing by teachers," said Peterkin.

The music teacher said he resigned before the Dysart School District set up its online learning program to start the year. According to Peterkin,  if he was offered the chance to teach virtually back then, he would have been happy to do it.

Jason Barry is best known for his Dirty Dining Report which airs Fridays at 6:30 p.m. on CBS 5.  He is also the storyteller behind CBS 5's Pay It Forward which airs every Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
 
 

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