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Pinellas teachers plan to rally Tuesday to keep school buildings closed

Group is advocating for virtual lessons instead
Posted at 4:29 PM, Jul 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 09:08:20-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- School starts back up in less than a month and school district leaders across Tampa Bay are working to finalize plans to return to classrooms as Florida sees the biggest spike in COVID-19 case numbers since the start of the pandemic.

On Tuesday morning, close to 100 parents and teachers plan to pack the Pinellas County School Board parking lot to make their message loud and clear to district leaders: It’s too risky to reopen school buildings, they argue.

Like so many parents, Ashley Chase is weighing a difficult decision: to send her twin daughters to school this fall or keep them home.

“You don’t want your children to miss out on education because that’s highly-important too. But then, you’re worried if you do send them, could something happen to them?" she said.

Chase says she trusts her daughters will be safe in their VPK program at school, and she will send to campus… despite some reservations.

“It is scary though because you just don’t know,” she elaborated. “We have to trust that the schools are taking every precaution though."

High school science teacher Dr. Christy Foust says the unknown factors are what concern her the most.

“I can’t make sense of how we can safely go back,” she said. “Even with masks, there’s going to be contamination. If one of the kids are sick, or is asymptomatic, they are still touching things like desks and in middle and high school, students rotate classrooms.”

More than 850 teachers have signed a letter created by the Pinellas Classroom Teacher’s Association begging school district leaders to continue with virtual learning. Then, once cases drop, they’re urging for students to be brought back in waves.

Nancy Velardi of the teacher’s association wrote the letter.

“I don’t think we should be having any physical interactions at schools until we see a two-week steady decline of the COVID cases, hospitalizations and fatalities, all of which are just careening out of control right now,” Velardi elaborated.

District leaders just released renderings showing how desks will be spaced apart in classrooms. They also plan to require masks indoors and force Physical Education classes to be held mostly outside. The district also plans to ban field trips and limit parent-teacher conferences to virtual settings.

RECOMMENDED: Pinellas Schools to require students and staff to wear masks, according to 'ReOpening Plan' draft

Dr. Foust still worries the precautions don’t go far enough.

“If I happen to have found out I’m a carrier or am asymptomatic and now I pass that on, and that student gets sick or dies, I have to carry that on my conscious,” Dr. Foust said.

Pinellas County School District leaders plan to finalize back to school plans Tuesday morning.

Parents in Pinellas County have until July 27 to choose if they’ll send their children back to class, choose a 9 week My PCS Connect live lesson virtual program (which can be renewed) or enroll them in Pinellas Virtual School, which is an at-your-own pace, 24/7 program.

LIST: Deadlines for when Tampa Bay families must decide whether to send their kids to school