Sun Sentinel | by Joseph Recchi | September 21, 2020
I just heard some distressing news. Superintendent Robert Runcie wants to force me and thousands of other Broward teachers to return to the classroom on Oct. 5, just in time for the dual threat of the seasonal flu and a resurgence of the deadly coronavirus.
It didn’t take long for hysteria to set in among my teacher friends and colleagues. “They’re going to kill teachers!” “They’re going to kill our family and friends!”
Overreaction? Not according to Dr. Anthony Fauci and leading world health experts, who are warning of a potentially catastrophic fall and winter. Considering these predictions, a barrage of critical questions followed about how Runcie is going to pull this off in a way that keeps us all safe. Hopefully we’ll find out more details Tuesday when the superintendent discusses his proposal at a school board workshop.
The stark news of Oct. 5 as a potential return date was followed shortly after by the appearance of a “return to work survey.” Short and to the point, the survey offers teachers the following options when face-to-face instruction resumes:
- Return to school/office and work from the campus.
- Seek the appropriate leave option.
A leave? Well, given my apprehension, a leave is actually pretty tempting. And if, for instance, I could convince Runcie to adopt me, I might give it some serious consideration. Otherwise, like the majority of my fellow teachers out there, I can’t afford unpaid leave any more than I can afford to contract this virus. And so after weeks of vagueness regarding the process and timeline of reopening school, teachers are blindsided with an exact date and an ultimatum if the school board approves.
The district gave assurances that in-person instruction would start “as early as appropriate” and “when trends are favorable.” Appropriate? Favorable? For whom? For those who matter, it seems. And once again, teachers, despite our best efforts, fall on the other side of that line. As do our students, I suppose.
As I considered the questionable wisdom behind Runcie’s decision, I was reminded of the piece CBS Sunday Morning did on the politicization of COVID, particularly the following statement by Dr. Richard Besser, who spent 13 years at the CDC and was acting director in 2009: “When you see the fingerprints of politics in the public health recommendations, that’s a real problem … and it’s a problem because it makes it hard to discern what’s being done for political reasons and what’s being done for public health reasons.”
While we watch in horror as the deaths nationwide and statewide continue to accumulate like a morbid telethon tally, both our president and our governor continue to be guided more by scoring political and economic points than protecting people. Can we not even get relief at the local level? Is moral leadership in even shorter supply than paper towels and Purell? At least not in Des Moines, Iowa, where Superintendent Thomas Ahart is resisting enormous pressure to send students and teachers back to the classroom until he can be assured that they’ll all be safe.
Like the teachers in Ahart’s district, Broward teachers have gone above and beyond to make sure teaching remains as dynamic and effective as possible, even in an online format. This has involved becoming proficient in all kinds of software in a very short period of time. And this is more than just dedication. It’s an acknowledgment that the situation we’re in is dire. It’s also a kind of covenant between the educators and the district: We do whatever it takes to provide as quality an education as possible under the circumstances, while the district does whatever it takes to make sure we’re safe.
Over the past 25 years, the powers that be have, on many occasions, forced me to beg for a reasonable increase in salary; I never thought they’d have me begging for my life. I’m imploring the superintendent and the school board to consider the hundreds of thousands of lives in their hands before choosing a date out of thin air. They’ve paid a great deal of lip service to extolling Broward teachers, telling us how essential we are. As I’m constantly reminding my students in their essays, “show, don’t tell.”
Photo: Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, addresses the media after the Broward County School Board voted 6 to 3 in favor of him keeping his job in March 2019. (Carline Jean / Sun Sentinel)