The largest teachers union in Florida has a clear message for top state officials: They don’t feel safe in the classroom while coronavirus cases surge
As coronavirus cases continue to surge in the U.S., particularly in southern states and across the Sun Belt, state officials are still grappling with a huge question: Can schools reopen in the fall, especially as the start of classes is just weeks away in some districts? In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran have issued an emergency order requiring their schools to reopen and hold in-person classes. Now, their state’s largest teachers union is suing them over it.
The lawsuit from the Florida Education Association is asking a judge to block Corcoran’s emergency order, and stop the state’s top officials from requiring schools to open, unless they take steps to protect teachers and kids, like drastically reducing class sizes and providing educators with adequate personal protective equipment.
“It is nonsensical to think that we are ready to open brick and mortar and begin teaching in just two weeks,” Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram told the Today show. “2.8 million children are depending on us to get this right.”
The debate about schools has been one of the fiercest ones throughout the pandemic, in large part because the science of children’s role in spreading the pandemic isn’t yet clear. There are still no firm conclusions about how the disease spreads between children, or how it spreads from children to adults — though numbers of kids testing positive for COVID-19 are scarily high in places like Florida, where nearly a third of kids who get tested return positive results. A lot of the debate around schools reopening has turned partisan, with many Republicans, including Donald Trump (who threatened to withhold federal funding from school districts that didn’t reopen), pushing for schools to open.
“We have managed to take what I think is one of the most important nonpartisan issues in America, which is getting our kids taught this fall, and turned it into a partisan battle,” Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told the Washington Post. “Here’s a crazy idea: Let’s just do what’s good for kids and parents.”
Even countries that have done a much better job than the U.S. with containing their outbreaks are struggling with decisions about schools. South Korea, which is a model for the world in stamping out outbreaks with isolation and contact tracing, delayed its planned reopenings and shut down some schools just days after they opened, when coronavirus cases started to rise again. In the U.S., some cities and states have defied Trump’s orders and threats and announced that classes will be held virtually again in the fall. Florida is far from the only place having this debate, but there’s only one thing that should matter: Keeping kids, families, and teachers safe.