Ahead of a possible reopening of schools for in-person learning on Oct. 5 or earlier, the teachers unions of Miami-Dade and Broward school districts are asking for safety precautions in the classroom.
Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco joined United Teachers of Dade president Karla Hernandez-Mats at a press conference at UTD’s new Miami Springs headquarters Thursday to share similar concerns before returning to the classroom, particularly about cleanliness and social distance protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said Tuesday he would like to have schools reopen to in-person learning on Oct. 5. He said he plans to recommend that date and present a reopening plan to School Board members Sept. 22.
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Fusco said she didn’t know whether student desks would be 3 feet or 6 feet apart, what’s being done about air quality concerns or how social distancing will work when schools open. The union is still working on a memorandum of understanding between the district and educators.
“We all deserve to go back into safe schools,” she said.
Hernandez-Mats acknowledged how difficult virtual learning has been in Miami-Dade and that many teachers want to go back in the classroom. But she cautioned against rushing the process because lives are at risk.
“Our sister Anna Fusco from Broward said there are multiple things that are missing in Broward County classrooms,” she said. “We are seeing the same thing happen here in Miami-Dade.”
She said Miami-Dade schools have not been properly equipped or prepared. “Our leadership continues to move the goal posts on these deliverables.”
Hernandez-Mats said reopening schools in October aligns with the state’s timing of counting enrollment in October to secure per-student funding.
A spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade school district said the state already guaranteed funding for the fall 2020 semester no matter when schools reopen.
Hernandez-Mats emphasized the importance of the Class Size Amendment, which Florida voters approved in 2002 to allow only 18 students in prekindergarten through grade 3; 22 students in grades 4 through 8; and 25 students in grades 9 through 12. Many districts use schoolwide averages to get around these requirements.
Teachers unions: Desks need to be 6 feet apart
Among UTD’s demands: 6 feet distancing between desks, controlled class sizes, emphasis on keeping sick children home, smaller class sizes, rigorous enforcement of face coverings, hand-washing stations and adequate air filters and ventilation.
Without those, “lives are going to be lost,” Hernandez-Mats said.
“We’re not asking for the moon. That’s a fact,” she added. “We’re asking for the bare minimum to make sure we don’t regress in this community and put lives at risk.”
She said there has been contradictory information put out from the district, adding that a memo was sent out to all Miami-Dade school principals to place desks only 3 feet apart, when the letter of understanding calls for compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which strive for 6 feet of distance.
Hernandez-Mats called on parents to document and speak out about crowded classrooms and school cleanliness. She encouraged parents to post their concerns on social media using the hashtag #SafeSchoolsSFL.
“We want this to be a community campaign,” she said, doubting that two weeks would be enough time to implement all of these measures. “We want to make sure what we are asking for is being implemented in every class.”
Safety precautions adopted at Miami-Dade Schools
The Miami-Dade County school district sent an email with a list of precautions currently taking place. It said maintenance crews “have been working around the clock to ensure all schools are sanitized and ready for reopening, utilizing the last several months to provide comprehensive repairs and improvements throughout the District.”
Those crews, the district said, have replaced more than 43,000 air conditioning filters, replaced drinking fountains with water bottle filling stations, created and posted 20,000 informational signs with public health protocols, installed countertop and desktop shield separators for areas where public visitors enter, provided HVAC service and checks at each school to ensure maximum air flow for students and employees, and provided new aerosol sprayers for routine sanitization at all schools.
At a recent Miami-Dade County School Board meeting, board members Marta Perez and Lubby Navarro took issue with having plexiglass shields in district offices but not in classrooms.
The district also said procedures are in place for socially distanced classrooms, hallways and stairways flowing only one way, altered drop-off and pickups, cafeteria and class transition procedures and the required wearing of facial coverings on all district school sites and school buses.
“The well-being of our students and our workforce is always at the forefront of our actions,” wrote spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego in an email. “Our approach to the reopening of schools is based on science and is informed by what is happening at the local level. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is following national and state health guidance to ensure that our schools are sanitized, well-maintained, and ready to welcome back students and employees.”
Early retirement inquiries from teachers
Fusco said there have been thousands of inquiries from teachers regarding early retirement and resignations. Hernandez-Mats said her office has seen an increase in calls and more social media posts about the same thing. She once again pointed to the letter of understanding, which says the district will explore offering an early retirement incentive to eligible employees.
Hernandez-Mats said that could save the school district money.
Palm Beach teachers union calls for superintendent’s resignation
Fusco mentioned at the press conference that the Palm Beach Classroom Teachers Association president, Justin Katz, called for the resignation of the schools superintendent, Donald Fennoy, because that union contends sufficient measures aren’t in place ahead of reopening schools there on Monday.
“CTA has tried to work with the current superintendent, but we have lost all faith and now have zero confidence that a righting of this rudderless ship is possible without immediate change,” Katz said in a message to teachers, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Both Fusco and Hernandez-Mats said they were not interested in calling for resignations, pointing to 10 and 12 years, respectively, of good track records with their superintendents.