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Group Of Parents, Teachers Rally Against Duval Schools Reopening Plan

Two people, a child and a woman, holding signs out of a truck that read "Life over lessons" and "Keep my mom safe"
Sky Lebron
/
WJCT News
Teacher Heather Correia at the rally Tuesday morning outside the Duval County Public Schools district building.

Duval County Public School teachers and parents are voicing their disagreement with the county’s school reopening plans slated to take place next month.

A line of cars drove from a San Marco parking lot to the Duval Public School Board building, honking their horns and holding a rally outside.

“All teachers, we are all dying to be in our classrooms. We just don't want to do it literally,” said Cez Erika Generoso, a teacher at Mandarin Oaks Elementary School. 

Related: Duval Releases Updated Back-To-School Plan

On the cars were short phrases written in marker, including “No School During Spike,” “If I Can’t Breathe, I Can’t Teach,” and “The Numbers Are Low Until It’s Your Child.”

The rally was put on in coordination with the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team, an organization formed within the past three weeks that has gained traction on Facebook with over 2,500 members.

The group has been pushing a list of demands regarding reopening the schools in fall: 

  • At least 14 days of zero reported new local community cases.
  • Frequent screening, testing tracing, and isolation of new cases.
  • Cleaning and disinfection of surfaces frequently, with PPE for all students and staff and remote learning for all vulnerable students and staff.
  • Mask requirements in classrooms, and not just during class changes and school buses.
  • Student and staff schedules designed to create small groups with six feet of distance at all times.
  • A full-time option for Duval Homeroom for K-12 students. 

The district’s revised reopening plan released Tuesday morning addresses some, but not all, of the group’s concerns.

“In my classroom, the policy is always safety first,” said Alex Ingram, a seventh grade civics teacher in Duval County. “Why should the school board not also follow that same policy? Why is it safety third or fifth? We have to let the virus dictate when we come back. We cannot come back when we are increasing in a number of positive cases.” 

In addition to the district’s revised plan, a school board workshop was held Tuesday to speak about concerns more in-depth.

According to the latest “fluid” plans, all families have the option to put their children back in brick-and-mortar school settings, or instead go with the Duval Home Room option for the first quarter of the school year. The Duval Virtual Instruction Academy is also an option. 

Ingram is speaking over a megaphone in a parking lot to a number of teachers and parents, who are standing next to their cars.
Credit Sky Lebron / WJCT News
Alex Ingram, a middle school civics teacher, speaking to concerned Duval County teachers and parents.

For the brick and mortar options, elementary schools will begin on August 10 with a full week of in-person schooling. Middle and high schools in the county will begin with a hybrid option that has some days of virtual learning and some days of in-person classes until Labor Day on Sept. 7. 

The plan also outlines that face coverings will be required on buses and in school. Kids in kindergarten through second grade will be given a clear face shield, and students with disabilities that prevent them from wearing a face mask will be accommodated. 

Face coverings will not be required in physical education classes, recess, band, music and other classes that make it difficult to learn or participate. 

What the plan doesn’t outline in detail is what will be required of teachers. 

Heather Correia, a first grade teacher at Arlington Heights Elementary, said she has an autoimmune disease, and COVID-19 would make her extremely ill if she caught it.

“I do not want to have to choose between my career [that] I love and my job,” Correia said.

Correia said that she’s worried that social distancing won’t be possible in the school she teaches at, as well as keeping kids face shields on all day. 

“I know because I've taught kids for 15 years. There's no way that they can do it, so it's gonna endanger our lives,” Correia said. 

During a Monday meeting with the Meninak Club, Superintendent Diana Greene said that teachers who are concerned about their health if they returned to school will have the opportunity to apply and teach fully online. 

And during a school board workshop Tuesday afternoon, it was discussed that teachers need to have taught for at least three years to qualify for a Duval Homeroom position. It’s unclear if teachers with pre-existing health conditions are given preference, or if the same applies to immunocompromised teachers with less than three years of teaching experience. 

The amount of positions open for virtual teaching will depend on how many students opt for distance learning. Applications will open Wednesday, July 15 and close July 22. Teachers will know if they are teaching online or not by July 27. 

Parents can sign their children up for Duval Home Room online from now until July 24.

There are also questions about how being exposed to COVID-19 or contracting the virus will play into a teacher’s paid sick leave and time off. 

Greene also mentioned that schools will lean on the Department of Health to conduct their own contact tracing, and based on those investigations, decisions will be made on whether specific rooms or an entire school should close down.

Any students or staff that were potentially exposed to COVID-19 and need to quarantine would transition to Duval Home Room.  

Ben Marcus, the Democratic nominee for Florida State Representative in District 16, said he’s concerned as a parent of two students in the public school system. 

“Public health needs to be the top priority in any sort of decision to reopen our schools,” Marcus said. “As a concerned parent [and] someone who very much loves our public school - Mandarin Oaks Elementary - where my 9- and 7-year-olds go to school, I'm incredibly concerned that by opening too quickly, we will keep this whole pandemic going for longer than it has to.

Last week, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered that all schools in the state must have a plan for brick and mortar schooling five days a week. 

“The state has been incredibly unhelpful in preparing schools for this and assisting schools in this. All that we've gotten is ultimatums from state leaders to open without real additional resources,” Marcus said. 

On Monday, however, Governor Ron DeSantis spoke in contrast of the mandate, saying the decision will be up to parents and school districts.

“I’m not going to dictate how everything goes,” DeSantis said. “You’re going to have a lot of school districts around this state that are going to open up.” 

Some South Florida counties have filed waivers so they wouldn’t be forced into five day in-person schooling options. Greene said Jacksonville filed a similar form.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.