South Florida Sun Sentinel | by Scott Travis | September 14, 2020
Broward teachers will no longer be allowed to work from home once schools open to students, a requirement that has caused consternation in other districts.
Instead, they will have to return to school and simultaneously teach students in their classrooms and those at home, Jeff Moquin, chief of staff to Superintendent Robert Runcie, said in an email Monday to School Board members. Those who aren’t comfortable would need to take a leave of absence, he wrote.
The note doesn’t say when schools will reopen, but Runcie has previously said it should be some time in October.
Right now, all students are learning online. Many teachers who were uncomfortable returning to campus due to COVID-19 had hoped to stay home and teach students who had signed up to learn virtually. But that’s not going to be possible, Moquin wrote.
“In order to optimize the likelihood of a successful transition, it will be necessary for all teachers to return to the physical campus and provide synchronous instruction for those students on campus, as well as those electing to remain in the eLearning environment,” Moquin wrote.
Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, said she has a “ginormous problem” with this directive. She said the union is still negotiating what a return to campus will look like.
“We’re still trying to get information. What’s being planned for [personal protective equipment] and sanitization, what are the plans when people get sick,” Fusco said. “What about teachers over 65 or ones with diabetes or heart conditions? In my opinion, they should be able to teach remotely.”
Moquin’s letter said “teachers who are unable to physically return to campus due to medical circumstances will need to avail themselves of any applicable leave for which they qualify.”
He said it’s yet to be determined if the district will allow some remote work “in very unique circumstances.”
The issue of where teachers can work has been contentious in Palm Beach County. Thousands of teachers have said they don’t feel comfortable returning and are asking to work remotely. The Palm Beach County School District is reviewing those requests and plans to grant some, giving priority to teachers with underlying health conditions. Those who are over 65 or have family members with underlying health conditions will also be considered.
The Broward letter cites the district’s “inability to add instructional resources” due to budget constraints as the reason remote work is not possible, but it doesn’t elaborate.
The office of Chief Communications Officer Kathy Koch acknowledged a request for comment Monday afternoon, but did not provide any information.
The School Board will meet Sept. 22 to discuss reopening.
Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants Association, said the district’s current plan is for all students to return either virtually or in person. There will no longer be a hybrid model, as district officials earlier discussed, where students would do half their learning in person and half remotely, she said.
Maxwell said she thinks there’s a push to open schools by early October due to a state required enrollment count. Schools must take attendance the week of Oct. 5 to 9, and only students in school that way week get counted for funding purposes.
Students attending virtually will be counted, but Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran have made it clear they want an in-person option for parents who want it. While they’ve allowed school districts to delay the start of the school year, they’ve threatened to withhold funding to districts that refuse to open.
“The governor thinks everyone ought to go back, no matter what, and [state leaders] are not going to make it any easier on South Florida when it comes to funding,” Maxwell said.
Districts outside of South Florida have already opened. Palm Beach will be the first in the region to reopen its campuses. That happens Sept. 21.
Broward administrators are contacting teachers this week to find out who is willing to return. Fusco said she’s recommended they wait until Friday, the last day to respond, to fill out the surveys so she can get more information from the district.
Parents are expected to be surveyed about their intentions next week.
Moquin said administrators, at the request of Broward Teachers Union, the district will schedule two early release days the week before school resumes to give teachers two afternoons to get their classrooms ready.
“Optimally, teachers will return to the physical campus the week before students return and continue to provide eLearning from the physical campus,” Moquin said. “This will allow teachers to re-acclimate to the physical campus; and with two early release days, teachers will also be able to prepare their classroom for the physical return of students.
Some teachers are already teaching online education out their classrooms while others are working at home.