Duval County Public School teachers, parents, students, along with local representatives, continue to demand that schools remain in a distance learning format until new COVID-19 cases in the county are minimized.
“If they open these schools while this pandemic is not under control...if they continue to turn their backs on teachers, on parents, on students, if any kid dies, the blood is on their hands,” said Angie Nixon, who is running for Florida House Representative in District 14.
Nixon was one of many who rallied across the street from the Maxwell House on an empty Northbank grass lot, which directly faces the Duval County School Board building across the St. Johns River.
“If it's not safe to host the RNC here, or open bars and nightclubs and also while congregations are still worshiping virtually, then it should not be safe to open our schools during this pandemic until it’s under control,” Nixon said.
With the school board adjusting its plans for the upcoming school year to delay the start date from August 10 to August 20, parents and teachers at the rally still aren’t satisfied with the latest decisions.
“It's not a matter of whether [death] is going to happen,” said Chris Janson, who works at the University of North Florida and has public school children. “That is going to happen. And each loss of a student, a young person, a teacher, a principal, a school counselor, a parent, a neighbor, a friend, a daughter, a husband, a grandparent is going to be due to the inability of educational leaders to put the health and safety of lives, of all of those people ahead of the security of their organization.”
The demands from the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team have been tweaked over the course of a couple of weeks, due to the school board’s revisions to the reopening plan. Here is the group’s current list:
- 14 days without any additional confirmed coronavirus cases in Duval County.
- Reinstatement of Phase 1 of the reopening plan in Jacksonville until there have been two weeks of declining cases, and fines put on people who don’t follow the mask mandate.
- Widespread and frequent testing, tracing and isolation of new cases.
- Mask requirement added to the Duval County Public Schools Student Code of Conduct
- Immediate school shutdowns for positive tests, with students not able to return until they test negative.
- Better cleaning and disinfection methods in schools and effective PPE for all students and staff, with continued remote learning for all vulnerable students and teachers.
- Smaller classroom sizes with 6-feet between people at all times.
- Duval Homeroom online for the first nine weeks for all teachers and students.
Last week, the school board approved a revised plan, which included elementary school students returning to class five days per week, while other students would have hybrid schooling until September 14. Parents can also sign their kids up for Duval Homeroom until the end of the month.
One man who wanted to remain anonymous said he teaches at a Jacksonville school for children with autism, and that he is terrified to go back to the classroom.
“I challenge the school board - How many of these funerals are they going to attend? If they’re causing these deaths, are they going to go out there and be at the funerals? Are they going to meet the families?” He said.
Alex Ingram, a local civics teacher who has helped coordinate the rallies the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team have held, said Duval Homeroom needs to be accessible to more people.
“We would like to see things like Duval Homeroom being offered to the most vulnerable teachers and teachers with vulnerable family members,” Ingram said.
Ingram said he feels optimistic about potential changes due to the large turnouts of the rallies, and he wants to see the same outspoken nature from Superintendent Diana Greene.
“Stand up to bullies and speak out against bullies, and in this instance, we see the governor is a bully towards public education, so stand up against bullies and speak out against bullies, and say it's inappropriate for us to start school for the date that is set,” Ingram said.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.