As the Trump Administration pressures states to return kids to school, millions of teachers, administrators, cafeteria and custodial workers are left wondering about their safety. Now, the Florida Education Association (FEA), Florida’s largest teachers union, filed a lawsuit on Monday against Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the state Education Department and the State Board of Education. The lawsuit is an effort to stop the “reckless and unsafe re-opening of schools.”
Florida Teachers Union Sues Governor
As Parentology reported last week, the National Education Association (NEA) had already been providing teachers with resources about their rights when returning to the workplace. Now the FEA is taking things a step further.
Florida has more than 360,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the numbers have been steadily increasing throughout the last month. The large number of cases combined with the continual increase has educators concerned for the health and safety of students, teachers, and support staff. According to Fedrick Ingram, President of Florida Education Association, Florida has over 23,000 children positive with a positivity rate of 13.4%.
“We don’t want to be petri dish for America. In fact, we need a survival kit,” Ingram told NBC News.
Instead of seeing a fourteen-day decline in cases, which is one of the recommended criteria for re-opening schools outlined by the CDC, the state has seen a seven-day increase in cases. Many of those days also set records for the number of new cases. Ingram believes that this is a problem that is much bigger than schools.
“We don’t need to hoist this as a problem for the schools, this a problem for our community at large,” he said. “And it is nonsensical to think that we are ready to open brick and mortar and do in person teaching in just two weeks.”
On Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis emphasized that the re-opening of schools is to give parents an option.
“Parents need to choose the best environment for their students, their kid,” he said. And when it comes to the options of teachers, DeSantis stated, “If a teacher doesn’t feel comfortable there … I think they should be given as many options as possible.”
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran also released a statement Monday explaining the Department of Education, “did not order any new directives regarding the requirements of schools to be open, it simply created new innovative options for families to have the choice to decide what works best for the health and safety of their student and family.”
While FEA’s Ingram concedes that the decisions can be made locally, he says what is lacking is a comprehensive plan that must include funding. The FEA’s contention is that to make schools safe to re-open on a local level, state funding and planning is a must.
“We don’t have personal protection equipment. We have no education as it relates to how social distancing, in fact our schools were built for social interaction, not social distancing,” Ingram says.
Ingram also fears that the lack of planning and funding with the school year fast approaching may cause many teachers to re-evaluate their return to work.
“Last year at this same time we started school in the state of Florida with over 3,000 classrooms that did not have a certified teacher,” he said. “This year we expect that number to be much, much larger.” When asked if there may be a scenario where schools would re-open, but union teachers may not return, Ingram told NBC News that, “nothing was off the table.”
As the clock ticks, the urgency for further resolution in the state of Florida grows. Ingram cautions that there is no room for error. “We cannot simply get this wrong in our public schools. There are 2.8 million children that are depending on us to get this right. This is a life or death situation.”