PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — We’re less than 3 months from the end of the most challenging school year on the books. Pinellas County School District leaders are continuing to work with the Pinellas Classroom Teacher’s Association to finalize plans to keep teachers and students safe as they wrap up the year.
A new memorandum of understanding agreement between the teacher’s union and district takes safety one step further by now requiring all desks to be at least 3-6 feet apart in classrooms. The union initially asked for a 6 foot barrier. Teachers with health concerns can also use plexiglass barriers around their desks and will be given an 8 foot barrier between themselves and their students, if wanted.
Another new change: teachers will be notified immediately if they may have been exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom. “Before this point, they were told after the fact after the contact tracing process was done, and many of them felt that left them too vulnerable,” Nancy Velardi, the President of the Pinellas Classroom Teacher’s Association elaborated.
Students will also be given three “teachable moments” if they are wearing a mask incorrectly or refusing to wear a mask altogether. At that point, a student will be directed into the principal’s office and parents will be involved in the conversation. A student could be transferred into a virtual program if an agreement cannot be reached. However, district leaders stress that mask violations aren’t being addressed as a discipline issue, but rather an issue of safety.
Overall, district and union leaders say they’re happy with the steps that have been taken to keep schools open and safe.
“Back in July, we were thinking we would close multiple classrooms or entire schools and it just hasn’t turned out to be that way,” said Associate Superintendent Bill Corbett.
District reports show there have been around 3,400 cases of COVID-19 linked to schools in Pinellas County. That breaks down to less than 1% of students and teachers testing positive for the virus.
“We’re all relieved that the schools did not turn out to be the superspreader we were frightened it might be,” Velardi added.
Stephanie Cox, a St. Petersburg mother of two says she is counting down the days until the end of May. She initially kept her 4th and 6th grader home to learn virtually, but decided they were missing out on connections inside the classroom.
“I’m happy we made the decision to send them back. I think that the teachers and administrators have done an amazing job of keeping all the students safe,” she explained.
She also believes, although this school year has been challenging, it will definitely be memorable and her kids likely won’t take going to school for granted ever again. “Last year sometimes they were I don’t want to go to school, I’m tired. Well, be careful what you wish for! So many kids are going to look at school in a totally different way after living through this pandemic.”