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Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association asking school district to increase COVID-19 protections

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Posted at 6:51 AM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 08:08:35-05

PINELLAS COUNTY — The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association says teachers in the county are becoming more worried over COVID-19 safety issues.

“The teachers who are already in the school buildings are concerned about the extra students that are being required by the emergency order to return to class,” said Nancy Velardi, President of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

Those are students who were deemed as not making adequate progress on virtual learning.

Velardi says classes are already pretty full and with the addition of those extra students, it will make appropriate social distancing difficult.

“Everyone is pretty nervous because the numbers are so high in Pinellas in general and also within our school system. We’ve seen an incredible rise,” said Velardi.

She says students are closer together than the CDC recommendation which is a concern because of the rise in cases.

“Even though the emergency order is in place, in the emergency order there is flexibility for any problem with the emergency,” said Velardi.

Our records show, this past week the school district reported about 300 new COVID-19 cases.

The PCTA wants the district to provide more protection for students and teachers.

“We are asking that instead of determining the number of students in a class by class size, and putting caps on those classes, we were suggesting they do it by distance,” said Velardi.

Every classroom is not the same size so the PCTA wants the district to see if it can keep every child at least 4 feet apart, and determine class size by the ability to distance students.

“The additional expectations that we have are for the category 1 teachers. Those are the teachers who were protected in the beginning of the year and are working virtually teaching from home because they have conditions considered by the CDC to be more at risk should they contract the virus,” said Velardi.

Those teachers may have to come back to school as more students head back to the classrooms.

“We believe that they should have even higher safety protocols put into place, more extreme because they are even more at risk than the average educator. We were asking for things like plexiglass dividers in front of their desks, air scrubbers which clean and ventilate the air properly, appropriate filtration for the schools, perhaps fewer students in their class, perhaps 6 feet between each child in those classes so that there are fewer,” said Velardi.

The PCTA also wants the district to consider allowing students to come back in phases.

“I would say that the superintendent and the school board might consider slowing down bringing children back at this time and just hold for a little while until those numbers go back down,” said Velardi.

She says the district has asked representatives from the PCTA to join them for a site visit on Wednesday, after hours, to take a look at some of the classrooms and talk to administration at some buildings to see if they’ll be able to determine class size by the ability to social distance.

The union says it’s working to take steps to put these additional safety measures into place and will be in constant communication with school leaders until they can get their memorandum of understanding, signed.

We reached out to the school district for comment but haven’t heard back yet.

The PCTA says it hopes they can come to an agreement soon.

Representatives will be at the school board meeting asking board members for their consideration on all of these points.

The meeting starts at 10 a.m.