EL PASO, Texas -- The El Paso American Federation of Teachers said it has sent a letter to County Judge Ricardo Samaniego and Mayor Oscar Leeser requesting that they remove and replace Dr. Hector Ocaranza as El Paso City/County Health Authority.
The teachers' group, in a social media post where its president Ross Moore disclosed the demand letter, said Ocaranza lost the respect of local educators by recently insisting that they should return to school classrooms amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The group questioned Ocaranza's qualifications for the Health Authority position given that he is not an infectious disease specialist - and also questioned the reliability of some of the Covid-19 data that the doctor has shared and utilized to guide his decision-making to allow in-person learning.
“Just as it is time for a much-needed change in public health leadership at the national level in the battle against Covid-19, so too is it in El Paso,” Moore, the AFT leader, wrote. “We need the right experience and background, which Dr. Ocaranza, a pediatrician, does not possess. The Covid-19 data does not portray a record of success or transparency on Dr. Ocaranza’s part, nor does it create trust and confidence in him.”
A city official issued a statement in support of Ocaranza on Wednesday night, while Judge Samaniego told ABC-7 earlier in the day that he would be following up on the organization's objections.
Fire Chief Mario D'Agostino, who heads El Paso's Emergency Management Operations - which includes portions of the city's Covid response efforts, said the community has been "lucky" to have Ocaranza at the helm throughout the pandemic.
The chief also rejected the notion that Ocaranza wasn't well-suited to handle infectious disease outbreaks, noting his extensive experience on prior occasions.
"During his tenure, Dr. Ocaranza has led our Ebola Preparedness Team, our Tuberculosis (TB) Outbreak Response Team and our H1N1 Influenza Pandemic Response Team," D'Agostino said in the statement sent to ABC-7.
In addition, the chief defended Ocaranza's school re-opening views, noting that the Health Authority talked with education leaders "on a regular basis and developed school-specific guidelines for teachers, students and staff."
Below is a look at the complete statement the El Paso AFT posted to social media outlining their objections to Ocaranza's actions, followed by the full response from D'Agostino.
Here is the statement from Chief Mario D'Agostino...
"Dr. Hector Ocaranza has served as our City-County Health Authority for more than 12 years and El Paso is lucky to have him serving and caring for our community.
During his tenure, Dr. Ocaranza has led our Ebola Preparedness Team, our Tuberculosis (TB) Outbreak Response Team and our H1N1 Influenza Pandemic Response Team.
Since the onset of the pandemic he has participated in ongoing communication with all the school districts to provide guidance and support. He has met with the school superintendents, school nurses and school athletics staff on a regular basis and developed school-specific guidelines for teachers, students and staff.
Dr. Ocaranza has drafted letters of support to secure continued school funding from the Texas Education Agency and met with the Education Commissioner to speak on behalf of the school.
El Paso is lucky to have Dr. Ocaranza because he understands the importance of our community’s health as well as the importance of the youth’s mental health and the impact the pandemic will have on our children’s future. It is a balance we as a community must work together to meet."