Teachers Union: Unfunded Mandate to Reopen is Unsafe

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced K-12 schools will continue with distance learning for the rest of the school year due to COVID-19. Photo credit Shutterstock licensed.

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is facing backlash from Florida’s teachers union for mandating that all school campuses reopen in the fall. With the increasing spread of novel coronavirus throughout Florida, education groups and parents are expressing concern that the state hasn’t done enough to ensure the safety and security of students and teachers to resume normal operation.

Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram says the plan, which calls for reopening all brick-and-mortar buildings at least five days a week, doesn’t factor in the increased costs of operating through a pandemic.

“It’s going to cost Florida more money to open schools, not less money,” says Ingram. “So, we know that we’re going to need more teachers if we’re going to do social distancing, more bus drivers – and perhaps more buses, more bus routes – to actually do what the science tells us to do.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the state has a “moral imperative to do our absolute best to return our schools to full operation by August.” But some districts, particularly in South Florida, are pushing back, suggesting the state is exceeding its constitutional authority.

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As districts scramble to reshuffle their plans, Ingram says he thinks Gov. Ron DeSantis and Commissioner Richard Corcoran have been more focused on Twitter than on listening to parents and teachers.

“Teachers that are in crisis mode, that are in panic mode, that are frustrated, that are angry because their voices have not been heard,” says Ingram. “And we know that they were not in the room when this plan was promulgated; and it was foisted upon the state of Florida on the same day that our [U.S.] President tweets out that we ‘must open our schools.'”

Ingram is urging the U.S. Senate to pass the Heroes Act, which would provide additional funding support for schools.

He agrees the reopening mandate does give some flexibility on the local level. For instance, districts can receive funding for off-campus “innovative learning,” and the order waives the requirement that schools provide 180 days of instruction.

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