Duval County teachers say no reopening plan is a good reopening plan

Siddie Friar, Intern Reporter

As the first day of school draws near for Duval County Public Schools, teachers, students and parents are bracing for what is likely to be a rocky road at best, and a deadly catastrophe at worst. 

Florida has become the world’s epicenter for new Covid-19 cases, yet both local and federal government are pushing for a full reopening of schools in just a few weeks.

This moment is a crisis of conflicting needs. Parents need their children in school so they can work, assuming they still have work to go to, while children need a decent education and opportunities to grow and socialize with peers. And lastly, teachers need to be able to do their jobs without the fear of death or endangerment for themselves or their loved ones. 

“The reopening plan, as is, is putting everyone in significant danger,” said Civics Teacher Alex Ingram in an interview with NPR’s Melissa Ross. “The lack of consideration that the district is giving teachers in regards to their health is a huge problem.” 

The arguments for a full reopening include the fact that many children are not ‘safer-at-home,’ many don’t have access to meals on a regular basis and depend on school meals for food, some are stuck at home in abusive situations, and of course there is the gap in access to resources, none of it is good. But to ask the public education system, which has been systematically defunded for years, to fill in all of these gaps is unrealistic in the best of times. 

“It’s true that there are some kids who live in unsafe conditions, where school is their safe place, but that brings up a whole other problem,” retired nurse Laura Hale said. “We just don’t have enough social workers or protective child services to help these kids but that can’t be the schools responsibility too.” 

“There is nothing Americans can do to save public education right now. We had a window about three months ago. We saw this coming. Teachers all saw this coming. There was no federal help, no national leadership. We got to visit bars and amusement parks this summer, though. So there’s that,” according to Siva Vaidhyanathan in an article written for The Guardian. 

President Trump has declared that all schools will be open. The Vice President acknowledged the CDC guidelines make this impossible and will have them changed to push forward with full reopening,while Trump has threatened to cut federal funding to schools should they not comply, with Governor Desantis following suit, mandating that Florida schools reopen with in-person classes available five days a week. 

An infusion of federal funds could do wonders to help schools reopen safely. Despite the push from above to reopen, this is not the case. Every school district is left to fend for themselves, dealing with the fallout of budget cuts from reduced state and local taxes. It’s worth noting that these budget cuts to education have happened while police departments often receive 50 percent, or more, of city budgets in most places in the U.S.

In recent press conferences, Governor DeSantis has touted that kids are not as susceptible to the virus. While data does seem to suggest that when kids fall ill they experience mild symptoms, the kids are not attending school in isolation. There are teachers and other staff members on campuses who fall into high risk populations. Further, if students are exposed, there is the chance they will bring the virus home to high-risk family members. 

UNF’s on-campus preschool is among those bracing for reopening. 

The Physical Facilities staff has been cleaning and sanitizing all areas in the building including restrooms, hallways, classrooms and offices on a regular schedule using EPA-approved cleansers for COVID-19,” said Mahreen Mian, UNF Preschool director. “As always, safety of our preschoolers and staff is our main concern, and we will do all we can to ensure our classrooms are properly prepared for everyone’s return.”

Parents have mixed feelings about returning to in-person learning right now. 

“When we had way fewer cases in March, everything was shut down. Now we have record  breaking case numbers and we are being rushed into reopening schools for in-person instruction,” parent and educator Shannon Maureen Russel-Hinds said. 

“In theory, we all want to go back to school,” Russell-Hinds said, “but looking at this from an adult perspective, we understand that you can’t always get what you want. We’ve been put in a really challenging position, as parents and educators – we just don’t have a lot of time to prepare and if we did have the time I’m not sure we could reopen safely.” 

A group of parents and educators sent this letter to Duval County Public School Administration and hope their perspectives will be considered. While online learning may not be ideal, or in some cases possible for some students, most people feel like that is far preferable than the potential loss of a student’s life. 

“Most nurses I know are against the reopening,” Hale said. “I’ve watched 600 healthcare providers that I know die from this. And these are people who are wearing PPE, who are knowledgeable about the virus and who still caught it and died from it. I can’t imagine teachers, school staff, and students being able to pull this off.”

While there have been daycares and some summer camp and school options open for children during the pandemic, the data being collected and released is limited. A team of teachers has crowdsourced some data that they were able to obtain, citing that while it suggests positive trends in diagnosis and transmission among school age children, it is very limited in scope and much more study is needed to ensure safety for all parties involved.


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].