USA TODAY Network of Florida opinion editors and columnists discuss the issue of school reopening during our first installment of Florida Pulse
Florida’s largest teachers’ union urged state officials to financially support local school districts and provide transparent data about confirmed COVID-19 cases among public school students.
The Florida Education Association (FEA), in a virtual press conference Friday, also urged Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to guarantee the state education budget would not suffer any cuts while school districts grapple with the local financial burden of the coronavirus.
Officials at the Florida Department of Education say education funding is under no threat for the upcoming year.
More: Corcoran: Use ‘surgical, not sweeping’ response to virus in schools
“It is clear that the FEA is admitting defeat, as they are now requesting that certain provisions in the Department of Education’s emergency order remain intact — the same emergency order they sued to get thrown out,” said Cheryl Etters, department spokeswoman.
“Governor DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran will continue to be a champion of education in Florida and do what they know is in the best interest of our students, parents and educators.”
In August, the FEA filed a lawsuit against state officials claiming that the state’s emergency order to reopen brick-and-mortar schools was unconstitutional.
Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association. (Photo: Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)
Andrew Spar, president of the FEA, mentioned statewide issues that have come in the first month of most school districts reopening, such as mass teacher resignations and students who are still unaccounted for in attendance rosters.
“Our public schools were not receiving the support they needed before (the pandemic), and these shortsighted and reactive mandates have only exasperated the situation,” Spar said.
He added that because of what he called a “mass exodus” of teachers and staff, many school districts are facing shortages of instructors, putting a strain on schools.
As a result, he said the teachers that remain are juggling both virtual and in-person students and having to work through the difficulties of translating classroom activities to online formats for virtual learners.
Etters emphasized that educators are working hard to provide students and parents with all the resources they need to continue learning in physical classrooms.
“Each school day, approximately 1.3 million students are receiving in-person instruction thanks to the amazing work of local education leaders who are making sure that Florida students and parents are supported through this challenging time,” Etters said.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks at a press conference held to give an update on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Photo: Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat, Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)
“Parents and teachers should demand that the FEA stop wasting its resources on lawsuits to take away parental choices and start focusing on providing students with a world-class education.”
Education officials such as Stephanie Yocum, president of the Polk Education Association, the local teachers’ union, say the state has not provided local districts with sufficient resources for students who want to attend school virtually.
Yocum said Polk County is not 1-to-1 with technology for students, meaning not every student has access to an electronic device. This leaves many students in vulnerable populations with no choice other than to attend brick-and-mortar classrooms, she said.
“The forced reopening from the state down to our district put everybody in a bind, and it’s been chaos,” Yocum said.
Another problem exacerbated by the pandemic are the unknown numbers of unaccounted-for students across the state, Spar added.
In Leon County, officials have given preliminary estimates of anywhere from 700 to 1,000 students not back in school. In the coming days, district officials will begin narrowing down the list of those students who have not yet appeared.
“A lot of those students tend to be in underserved populations,” Spar said. He added that communities need to work together to get students Internet access and electronics devices to continue their educations.
“We should be driving solutions, not just waiting for problems to happen,” he added.
CD Davidson-Hiers contributed.
Casey Chapter, news editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau, can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @CaseyChapter.
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