USA TODAY Network of Florida opinion editors and columnists discuss the issue of school reopening during our first installment of Florida Pulse

Florida Today

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.

Buy Photo

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.

More: ‘We’re keeping schools open’: DeSantis, state on track with reopening

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.

Buy Photo

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.


Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @CaseyChapter.

Never miss a story: Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat.

Read or Share this story: