NewsPolk County


Fla. teachers share their concerns heading back to class amid pandemic

Posted at 5:40 PM, Jul 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-09 18:56:02-04

DAVENPORT, Fla. — Fear and anxiety are plaguing the minds of Florida teachers.

The idea of heading back into a classroom amid a pandemic doesn’t seem to make sense to many parents or teachers.

Logistically, school districts are working to figure out how they will manage everyday school functions while adhering to the Center for Disease Control guidelines.

RELATED: Fla. education commissioner requires all Florida school districts to reopen campuses in August

The president of Polk Education Association, Stephanie Yocum, believes her district is not financially ready or has the resources to do so.

“We have to make sure that safety and health of all of our people are our number one concern,” Yocum told ABC Action News. “We don’t feel like we are financially, with resources and adequately prepared to keep everybody safe as we can."

Lyndsay Gendreau, a fourth-grade teacher in Davenport, says she’d love to get back to class but not at the risk of her son’s life.

Gendreau’s two-year-old son, Connor, suffers from asthma and other medical conditions making it hard for him to breathe.

“He gets a common cold and he ends up in the hospital for one or two days with oxygen,” she said.

Polk Education Association also pointed out its population of high-risk teachers like the older, veteran, instructors and those with health issues.

“We didn’t sign up to necessarily be martyrs for a system that hasn’t cared about us for two decades,” Yocum said.

That’s why Yocum is now pushing for e-learning for a majority of the district.

Unlike virtual school, e-learning means students are still tied to the same school and learning in real-time.

She understands the need for communities and families in need of face-to-face classroom time and e-learning would allow those students who’d like to still attend a brick and mortar building to do so safely with a greater likely hood of social distancing.

Yocum says it could also save lives.

“We can make up learning gains but we cannot make up learning gains if the staff start dying and the kids start dying because of this,” Yocum said.

By July 31, schools across the state must have their plans submitted to the Florida Department of Education along with options they may want to include like e-learning.

Three days after the deadline, teachers head back to the classroom in Polk County.

According to at least one Polk County school board member Billy Townsend, as long as parents aren’t coerced into doing something they do not want to, he’s open for suggestions.

“I’m against coercing anybody into physical school. I’m open to a voluntary, carefully planned, physical option. But it may be that e-school is the only real possibility,” Townsend said.

We asked Polk County Public Schools if it had come to any decision yet. A spokesperson tells ABC Action News the superintendent is flexible but the decision won’t be made until after Tuesday’s meeting with the school’s reopening task force.

We understand that the families of our students and staff members have many questions and concerns about how to safety educate students once the school year begins in the fall amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. These questions and concerns are being taken into consideration as we plan for the upcoming school year.

Earlier this week, the Florida Department of Education issued an order calling for all “brick and mortar” public and charter schools to physically reopen in August for at least five days per week.

The superintendent has been steadfast that she wants to provide families with flexible learning options. There are families with students who desperately need the services and face-to-face instruction available on a school’s campus. Other families would like virtual options for learning.

Polk County Public Schools staff reviewed the FLDOE executive order and have determined that the school options we’ve been developing for the 2020-21 school year are still viable under the order. Those options include being able to attend school in-person or virtually.

Our reopening task force has been diligently working to finalize recommendations for physically reopening our schools as well as offering virtual distance learning options to our families for the 2020-21 school year.

An overview of this plan will be presented to the School Board during their July 14 work session.”
says Polk County Public Schools

Teachers have also openly expressed their concerns for staff or districts to be sued if children catch the virus at school.

Polk County Public Schools says it is unaware of any possible litigation, but at this time they are not creating any liability waivers.

For teachers like Gendreau, she says she would like to know how the school districts plan on protecting its teachers and students before heading back.

“Our classrooms are overloaded as it is. There is no way to get 27 students 6 feet in my classroom, it’s impossible.” Gendreau said.