Pasco County Schools is continuing its plans to offer face-to-face instruction as one of its options when school resumes on Aug. 24 — but, the union representing teachers and other school district employees is continuing its efforts to block that.
In a posting on the United School Employees of Pasco’s website, union officials inform their members that they are continuing efforts to seek an injunction that would prevent a return to brick-and-mortar classrooms when school begins.
The union is waiting until this week for formal actions to avoid interfering with efforts by the Florida Education Association, which is pursuing legal action on behalf of educators across the state, the posting says.
This latest USEP announcement follows a rally by teachers and parents at school district headquarters on Aug. 4, seeking to persuade the Pasco County School Board to adopt an online-only opening of schools, until the number of positive COVID-19 cases declines.
Don Peace, president of USEP, appeared at the school board’s meeting that day, again urging the board to only open schools online.
“We are not saying we don’t want a return to brick-and-mortar. We are saying we don’t want to return to brick-and-mortar now,” Peace said.
“Pediatricians and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are saying that we should not be heading back to schools at this time.
“When the positivity rate shows a downward trend and is below 5%, which is the level that ironically triggered the stay-at-home order back in April, then and only then would it be prudent to have a conversation on returning in a face-to-face format,” Peace said.
Peace said the district should rely on the data, in determining if students, teachers and staff return to schools.
“We have the means to use technology, in order to save lives,” Peace said.
Speakers offering public comment also told board members that they don’t think it’s safe to return.
Patrick Connolly, of Zephyrhills, said that there will be significant problems with staffing, if staff members apply their self-screeners with fidelity. And, he said, “if we don’t apply these screeners with fidelity, we will have the virus running rampant in our community.”
Jeremy Blythe, a Pasco teacher for five years, said he wishes he was excited to begin a new school year. Instead, he said, ““I’m afraid, I am angry and I’m sad.
“Being a teacher has prepared me to do many things, but what I cannot prepare for is the idea that I will have to bury a colleague or a student. I don’t want my family to have to bury me, either, if we head back to campus before it is safe,” Blythe said.
Superintendent Kurt Browning reiterated the district’s stance of reopening, with three options for parents: bricks-and-mortar, mySchool Online and Pasco eSchool.
“We are between that proverbial rock and a hard place, where we find ourselves with that emergency order,” Browning said.
“There’s been a lot of discussion, comments made out there about funding.
“The fact remains that when you read the emergency order, it is very clear that funding is tied to the fact that school districts need to open with bricks-and-mortar.
“You have to truly connect the dots, but if you want funding, and you want to be held harmless from funding reductions, then the expectation is that districts will open bricks-and-mortar.
“If we do not get funding from the state, our teachers do not get paid. Our bus drivers do not get paid. Staff, in general, does not get paid.
“It’s going to be tough to keep lights on,” Browning said.
Browning said district staff is doing everything it can to ensure safety.
However, he added: “We’re not going to prevent it, but we are in the business of trying to minimize the impacts, or the spread of COVID,” the superintendent said.
He noted: “Even after all of the news reports, the data that’s out there — we still have 66% of our families that are wanting to return to bricks-and-mortar.
“By virtue of that, we need to be able to staff and provide that for them,” Browning said.
School Board Chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said one of her chief concerns involves the inability to provide social distancing in secondary classrooms.
“We cannot ensure social distancing in every secondary classroom,” she said, noting district employees are aware of that, but she’s not sure that parents know that.
Beaudoin did call attention to Pine View Middle School’s efforts to maximize the space between its students, by clearing the room of extra furniture, extra tables, extra filing cabinets — to increase the distance between desks.
Beaudoin also said that if at some point, the district was to go remote, she wants the public to know that the district staff has been exploring multiple options.
“None are guaranteed, but we have been looking into ways to support families with child care and tutoring, to be able to continue to feed our students and families, and keep our employees working,” the school board chairwoman said.
While Pasco plans to return to school campuses, the Hillsborough County School Board has voted to begin the school year with online-only instruction — a position being rejected by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
To be on the safe side, parents are encouraged to check for the most recent updates on the school district websites and social media platforms, to be sure they have the latest information. The Pasco school district’s website is Pasco.k12.fl.us.
The Hillsborough school district’s website SDHC.k12.fl.us.
Published August 12, 2020