Earlier this year, I became a substitute teacher for my local school district and I have enjoyed every single second. I am highly considering becoming a teacher and this job has really helped me learn more about the inner workings of the public school system, especially in the state of Florida. When schools began to close in March after spring break, all I thought about was when I was going to go back to work.
Now that months have passed and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has not improved in the country and, in particular, my state, I am now asking how we are going to keep students and staff safe when schools open.
Recently, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos vowed to open back schools all across the nation, apparently regardless of how the pandemic is going. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran have followed Secretary DeVos's orders and agreed to open up schools in the state.
However, none of them have created a viable plan on how to properly keep students and staff safe once the school year starts.
As schools across the state of Florida are preparing to open up just next month, many parents, teachers, janitors, custodians, students, councilors, and substitute teachers are demanding answers on why there is no set plan in place. They believe that if there is no plan, then schools should not open for in-person teaching. At the time of writing, no designated plan has been stated to answer this demand and I, along with many other people, find that unacceptable.
In the Greater Tampa Bay Area, school districts are scurrying around trying to create plans that would try to keep students and teachers safe while opening up schools. In Pasco County, Superintendent Kurt Browning, who recently had COVID-19, has created a three-solution plan for students to enroll. One of them is going back to normal schooling with mandatory mask wearing for both students and staff. The second would give students a normal bell schedule day but through online teaching, which some teachers did for the end of the last school season. The third option is the use of the Florida Virtual School which would mean students would just take normal online school.
Many parents chose for their children to go to traditional in-person schools, such as my own. The problem is how will students and staff be kept safe. Hillsborough County is giving three washable masks to all students and staff and they, along with Pinellas County, have plans to change the start of schools of August 10 to a later date.
As a substitute teacher, I have been in contact with many teachers and staff about what their options are to go back to work.
Many of the teachers who are older or with immune problems have retired or left due to their health. Others are worried that in already overflowing classrooms, even with masks, the students still face a great risk of contaminating each other. In Pinellas County, teachers were protesting for schools to not reopen in person due to the fact they don't feel safe. They feel it should not be right for them to choose between their lives or their livelihood. We were given an email stating if we would return to work many teachers and staff I have spoken too are going to go back to work, but out of reluctance.
If summer camps with much more open areas are having COVID-19 outbreaks imaging having one at a school.
There are many questions that should be answered way before in-person schooling actually should start. How will we ensure all students and staff will have access to clean masks? How will we ensure students do not have physical contact with each other in the hallways, lunch, and gym? How will we maintain social distancing in a 20-by-20-foot classroom with over 30 students and a teacher? What will be the protocol if a student or staff member contracts COVID-19? Will everyone in the class or school be subject to quarantine? Will full-time staff be able to not worry about having to use sick days or vacation days if they contract COVID-19? Will I, as a substitute, need to work in only one school for the semester, or am I still able to go to any school I please? How will the cafeteria workers be safe while being in contact with almost every single student in the lunch line? Will custodians and janitors need to work overtime to keep the schools clean and will they be paid accordingly? How will a crowded bus keep students and the driver safe?
If there is not an answer to each one of these questions and many more given by teachers and staff by the before school starts, then schools should not reopen in person.
It is quite shameful that our leaders, Secretary DeVos, Gov. DeSantis, and Commissioner Corcoran are making decisions without creating a safe plan beforehand for the sake of students and staff. I am worried and so should anyone that works in or has a child in the public school system, especially in the state of Florida.
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