PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Making a plea to keep classrooms closed! Teachers in Pinellas County are fuming over plans to reopen schools as COVID-19 cases spike.
Yet, Pinellas County leaders decided Tuesday to allow parents to choose between three options:
- 9-week (renewable) online live daily lesson through My PCS Connects Program
- At their own pace virtual school
- Traditional classroom lessons
“14 days. No new cases,” teachers shouted as they held signs Tuesday outside the Pinellas County School Board meeting. More than 100 teachers, parents and students held signs and stood at the entry to the school board building expressing concerns over returning to the classroom.
Patrick Mugan, a middle school history teacher says he is worried sick about returning to schools in August.
“It’s not safe for anybody to return and if I die from returning to school then I want them to drop my body right here in front of the school board,” he exclaimed.
Mugan says it’s a matter of life or death.
“We are quite literally the world epicenter of this virus, at this moment. Florida. It’s ridiculous,” he elaborated.
Cheryl Eason is also concerned as both a mom of three and the daughter of a long-time educator.
“I can keep them (my kids) home but I can’t keep my 63-year-old teacher mom home," she explained.
The teachers and parents rallying would prefer to keep classes online until we see two full weeks without a rise in COVID-19 cases. Then, they’re advocating for students to be brought back in waves.
Dr. Christy Foust, a high school science teacher, helped to organize Tuesday's rally.
“This is something we don’t want to mess around this. We need to get the pandemic under control or people are going to die,” she elaborated.
School board leaders say they’re required by the state to reopen schools 5 days a week, but they are expanding online offerings for parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids back to class.
"This plan is fluid," Superintendent Michael Grego said. "The state requires us to have a plan that opens our school buildings 5 days a week. This plan gives us flexibility."
In Pinellas County, masks will be required. PE will be held mostly outdoors and a STRIKE team will be used to deep clean classrooms. Field trips will not be allowed and parents will only be allowed in school buildings with very limited access.
District leaders will also set up a COVID sick room in each school. District leaders also say they’ll be ready to launch into full virtual instruction if they must shut down for COVID-19 cases.
Teachers argue no amount of precautions will go far enough to keep everyone safe.
“It’s negligent. It’s dangerous,” Melissa Newman, a school social worker chimed in.
Newman rotates from one school to another and worries about the high number of interactions between staff and students.
“We’re being exposed 25 times in each classroom to someone who potentially has it and how do we control that? None of us live in a vacuum,” Newman said.
“I have kids that I know aren’t getting the healthcare that they need. I can’t expect them to return to school and be safe. That’s not fair to them,” Mugan added.
Parents now have until July 27 to decide how they want their kids to start school next month— either virtually or in person.
The Pinellas Classroom Teacher's Association also plans to work with school board leaders to decide how teachers will be chosen to teach virtual sessions or in-person lessons.