Broward County Public Schools and the Broward Teachers Union have been at loggerheads for about the last six weeks. As we have shown in several stories, the two sides are fighting about what they consider safe or unsafe in the classroom environment.
The school district says with record numbers of students failing and chronically truant, they need to bring more kids and teachers into the classroom for face-to-face learning. Right now, only about 25% of students are physically going to school every day.
“And what we certainly found,” said superintendent Robert Runcie, “Is that schools are not sources of secondary transmission of the coronavirus.”
Runcie was speaking at a news conference which started a few minutes after a news conference called by BTU, which included a couple of parents and students.
The union says more kids in the classroom means less room for social distancing.
“We are concerned about the health of our parents, of our students, and our teachers,” said John Moreno Escobar, a parent who has a son at Sawgrass Elementary School.
“Aside from fighting for teachers we also need to challenge the consensus that we should be sending more kids to school and sacrificing the need to social distance,” said Rocco Diaz, a senior at Fort Lauderdale High School.
Rocco admitted that even if the number of students in his classes doubled, there would still be plenty of physical distancing space.
“I walked schools today,” said BTU president Anna Fusco. “I saw classrooms with 19, 20, students, not only did they go over class size, they were not six feet apart.”
Runcie said even as the district encourages more students to come to their schools instead of staying home for distance learning, there will be enough room for everyone.
“I’m not gonna sit here and guarantee you we will always meet that standard,” Runcie said, referring to six feet of distance between every desk, “but I can say with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority of classrooms will be able to meet that.”
Tuesday's back-to-back news conferences came in the aftermath of the union’s lawsuit against the district over its demand that 1,100 teachers who had been granted health waivers to teach from home, now must come back to teach from school.
“I don’t know a band director who doesn’t want to be marching on the field with the band, I don’t know an art teacher who doesn’t want to be creating with their students, but they want to stay alive,” said Fedrick Ingram of the American Federation of Teachers, who was also at the news conference.
Broward Public Schools points out it was the first major school district in the state to shut down in March and the last to reopen in October precisely because it has been so cautious with pandemic health issues.
It’s also worth noting that from the start, Miami-Dade County Public Schools has said they consider a three-foot distance between desks to be adequate as long as everyone is wearing a mask.