With the reopening of Broward and Miami-Dade Public Schools on the horizon, the unions representing teachers in each county held a rare, joint news conference Wednesday to express their concerns.
United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats and Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco discussed what they say are health and safety gaps that still exist and need to be addressed in order to safely open brick and mortar schools.
“We’re not asking for the moon, that’s the fact, we are asking for the bare minimum,” Hernandez-Mats said
“We are banding together to make it clear that we all deserve to go back into safe schools,” Fusco said.
The unions claim the districts have not taken steps to reduce class size to make physical distancing possible, haven’t installed hand sanitizer dispensers and plexiglass dividers in many buildings, or many other safety measures.
“It is unconscionable to think that we would cram kids into classes during a pandemic,” Mats said.
“We don’t know if we’re gonna have desks three feet, six feet, we don’t know how many students will be in our classrooms, we do not know how many students will be walking in the halls,” Fusco added.
Some of the gaps union leaders are asking the districts to address include guaranteeing limited class sizes and social distancing in classrooms and hallways.
“We want to make it perfectly clear that a vast number of our educators want to return to in-person instruction. We understand that this is the best learning option and long-term scenario for students,” said Hernandez-Mats. “However, the decision to commence needs to be aligned with the proper implementation of the safety guidelines and regulations that will help to stop the exponential spread of the virus in our schools and our communities. Without this, it will only be a matter of weeks before we find ourselves regressing and back to square one."
Other requests the unions have made include:
- Sanitation between transitioning classes
- Dedicated 48-hour rapid testing for personnel
- Proper ventilation systems throughout schools
- Plexiglass outfits in areas receiving street pedestrian traffic
- Compliance on daily health screenings for children
- Mask requirement at all times with exception of eating periods
Both Miami-Dade and Broward Public Schools have said for many weeks, and reiterated in statements today, that the types of safety protocols the unions are talking about would be and are being implemented.
“Are the governor and commissioner holding education funding hostage in exchange for reopening under unsafe conditions?” Mats asked.
The districts say the answer to that is no. The superintendents have said repeatedly they will base their reopening decisions solely on science and the recommendations of health experts.
Both superintendents Alberto Carvalho and Robert Runcie have said when schools reopen, facial coverings will be mandatory, physical distancing will be enforced, and a range of other policies will be in effect.
Public schools in both counties have been operating through distance learning since March, as the coronavirus pandemic was spreading in South Florida.
Runcie said he's going to recommend Broward County's schools reopen on Oct. 5. Miami-Dade Public Schools were expected to set a potential reopening date soon.