In May and June, school districts across Florida were already laying out safety proposals of returning back to class. In fact, several school districts like Duval County and others were ready to start reopening online and brick and mortar schools on August 10.
In June, Florida Education Association (FEA) President Fedrick Ingram, who chaired the union’s Statewide Committee to Safely Reopen Public Schools, laid out his group’s game plan for schools to safely reopen this summer. These measures included students wearing face masks, protective shields for desks for students, temperature screenings, transportation changes, maintaining social distancing, limiting class sizes according to designated grades and providing teachers and school staffers with personal protective equipment.
Now, all that has changed. Over the past week, unions across Florida have been holding protests as they oppose schools reopening. Organizers say that educators are not ready to return and will not be ready to return until campuses are safe.
Teachers unions are calling for a window of at least 14 days of no reported cases of coronavirus in local communities. They also want cities to enact fines on those who do not comply with local mask mandates. The unions are also calling for more rigorous testing and tracing. This is a change from June when teachers unions wanted 14 days of declining numbers of cases before schools reopened.
In July, Ingram was asked by Fox Business David Asman what exactly were those declines.
Ingram said the Teachers Union agreed with the CDC and wanted to see a 14-day decline among COVID cases.
“But a decline of what?” asked Dr. William Mallon, an ophthalmology specialist in Vero Beach and a medical commentator on Florida I Heart Radio stations.
Mallon noted that in June, when the unions were promoting their safety measures, Florida still had increases in COVID-19 cases.
“Sure, we have seen larger cases over the last several weeks but we also have days where we see declines in cases and the unions aren’t being specific and haven’t given the public any real credible data to support keeping the schools shut down,” said Mallon.
“I’m confused, I don’t get it. Back in May and June, the unions and school districts already agreed upon safety measures to be put into place for the beginning of the school year, now they are disagreeing with their own proposals and instead they want to blame and sue the Governor,” said education analyst Shawn Frost.
Frost, who served on the Indian River School Board and now runs MVP Strategy and Policy which consults with education policymakers, organizations and public school leaders, said what the unions are asking for is ridiculous
“No school openings until there are 14 days of zero new cases from COVID? That’s like the delivery driver telling his boss he won’t get back on the road until there are 14 consecutive days of no new car accidents,” said Frost.
Teachers unions at the state and federal levels are not on the same page when it comes to reopening schools.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation’s largest teachers union, recently adopted a resolution that stated schools should only open in places where the average daily community infection rate among those tested for coronavirus is below 5 percent and the transmission rate is below 1 percent.
“It’s all politics,” said radio host Roger Henderson of WBOB in Jacksonville.
“The president came out and practically agreed with school unions that class reopenings should be done in a safely manner and the unions then started to make new demands,” Henderson said.
Ingram agrees that local school districts should have some flexibility in school reopenings.
Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said in June that the county’s schools will follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and U.S. Education Department rules when it came to reopening. Greene said that the guidelines that were originally agreed upon were had input from the unions.
Still, there does seem to be a sense that reopening schools will cost taxpayers across the state.
“It’s going to cost Florida more money to open schools, not less money,” said Ingram.
“Unions extorting taxpayers for more money, here it comes. At least now the unions can stop pretending they care about kids or education,” Frost said.
Reach Ed Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org.