“We are seeing classrooms with 25 students, 20 students, with not six feet of social distancing,” said Ana Fusco, Broward Teachers Union president.
More than 70 teachers have decided to quit their position or retire in Broward County, a move that comes as the Broward Teachers Union expresses its concerns about what members call “a relaxation” of the social distancing measures in Broward’s public schools.
Robert Runcie, the county’s superintendent, said that the number didn’t surprise him, as it represents a “slight” increase in retirements from a normal year. However, he recognized the role that coronavirus plays in the educators’ decision to leave the classroom.
“There is certainly a lot of stress, fear, and anxiety about the moment we’re in. I absolutely understand that,” Runcie said Tuesday during a televised press conference.
According to Runcie, 37% of the district’s students are back in the physical classroom. At this time, there are 72 teachers on the list of those who are quitting or retiring. Thirty-four are leaving from elementary schools, 17 from high schools, 12 from middle schools, and 9 from mixed-grade schools.
Teachers Are Worried
A conference that followed Runcie’s was attended by parents, students, and education leaders in support of the teachers.
During that conference, Fedrik Ingram, National Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, raised troubling statistics: “In Broward County, the pediatric spread of this virus is 14.7%. The state average is 14.1%. We are higher than the state average,” he said, adding that “things are exponentially worse than in March 2020,” when Broward schools closed. He called to put pressure on the governor and the people who have “leverage of power” in Broward County, to make sure that teachers and students are safe.
“Right now it is not safe to bring back 100% of our teachers into our schools,” he said, citing social distancing, personal protective equipment, and hand-washing, among other problems.
Also in that conference Ana Fusco, Broward Teachers Union president, said that teachers, especially those who suffer from health conditions that elevate their risk of more dire consequences if they contract the virus, are afraid of returning to in-person teaching. “We are seeing classrooms with 25 students, 20 students, with not six feet of social distancing,” she said.
Looking to Biden
Runcie assured those in attendance that the schools will try to follow the guidelines as best as they can. He also expressed the need to put teachers and staff at the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccines. But despite educators’ repeated pleas for a vaccine, Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to prioritize senior citizens and frontline healthcare workers.
Runcie, however, added that “we are very encouraged by the recent proposal by President Joe Biden‘s administration to invest over 130 billion dollars into public education that will provide resources… to get our kids back on track.”
Ingram echoed that sentiment: “Tomorrow we have a new administration in this country that says we are going to open all our public schools, but we are going to do it safely,” he said. “The school board and the school superintendent should not get in front of a national plan.”