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UNION: Teachers resigning over COVID-19 concerns in Pinellas County

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Posted at 5:53 PM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 18:35:59-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Hundreds of teachers have retired, resigned or taken a leave of absence and the President of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association says she’s concerned more teachers will resign as stress levels remain high.

Union president Nancy Velardi says she is hearing daily from dozens of teachers who are extremely stressed.

From the end of last school year until August 17, Pinellas County School District leaders tell ABC Action News 400 teachers have retired or resigned. That compares to 361 who retired or resigned during the same period in 2019.

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Although the difference is small, Velardi worries the numbers don’t account for teachers who quit within the week leading up to school and the first week of classes or those currently on the verge of their breaking point.

“Teachers want to make sure the students get what they need. They can’t just sit back and say ‘welp, it’s not working I’m just going to do nothing.’ They can’t. They’re simply not wired that way so the stress level of them trying to do the job they know they should be doing is completely taking its toll,” she explained.

Velardi says the main stressor comes from simultaneous teaching. Teachers are currently helping students in the classroom and broadcasting their lessons live while assisting students learning online via the My PCS program from home.

“This is doubling their workload and they are completely losing it,” Velardi said with a sigh.

Right now, union members are working alongside school district leaders to come up with solutions to help teachers cope with added stress like creating “ready to go” school curriculum to decrease the number of hours teachers need to spend on planning lessons. District leaders are also working to decrease the number of teachers who need to work simultaneously with students in different locations.

High school teacher Dr. Christy Foust decided to take a year of absence, which means she is going without pay but is guaranteed a teaching position for the 2021-2022 school year.

“It took me a long time to figure out I wanted to be a high school educator, so to walk away from it after only being a teacher for five years, it’s really hard on a lot of levels,” Foust elaborated.

Dr. Foust asked for a virtual position but was told she had to return to the classroom. She says after a few days of going into the school for pre-work, she decided her health needed to be put first.

“It’s a very risky decision but I very strongly believe that no one should be going back,” she added.

Dr. Foust says she’d be willing to come back to the classroom under two conditions: A chance to teach fully online or once we see a 14-day period without new COVID-19 cases in Pinellas County.

“This is literally life or death. Teachers deserve to be healthy and teachers cannot do their jobs to the best of their abilities if they are stressed out or sick,” Dr. Foust added.