The Broward County School Board has legislative priorities, and to communicate its wishlist, the board members invited Broward legislators to a meeting Wednesday to hear their concerns.
It was a chance for board members and school district officials to discuss a variety of issues with the county’s state representatives and state senators, including a call for school staffers to be next in line, after the elderly and frontline health care workers, to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
“We absolutely believe that our teachers should be near the top of that list as well so they can have the confidence to continue to do their work,” said Superintendent Robert Runcie.
The legislators learned the district spent an extra $62.7 million because of the pandemic, and that 8,200 students are basically lost academically.
Schools and COVID
“But each one of these 8,200 who had more than 15 absences in the first quarter is a story of the impact of COVID-19 on the disruption of their family lives, which is preventing them from staying connected with schooling,” said chief academic officer Dan Gohl.
District officials asked the legislative delegation to once again waive the consequences of the state assessments, as they did last school year, saying it’s not fair to grade schools or teachers, or to decide if third graders get promoted to fourth grade, based on high-stakes testing during this topsy-turvy school year.
“If we do not suspend the accountability system as it is now, teachers will be held accountable in their appraisals for students who they may never have seen,” Gohl said.
Teacher accommodations were not discussed in the meeting, but on Tuesday, Runcie reiterated that accommodations granted to teachers to allow them to work from home would expire this week, on Jan. 8.
“I am so upset and disheartened that our superintendent has taken this position,” said Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union.
School board member Sarah Leonardi, who was a high school teacher before she won election to the board in November, said she wants to make sure the district takes care of teachers with serious health issues.
“They were granted those accommodations because of health conditions which are not ending on Jan. 8,” Leonardi said.
“Our schools are not sources of spread for the pandemic, and that’s not just here in Broward, that’s true for most districts around the state and the country,” Runcie said, replying to arguments about granting accommodations.
Runcie said as the district begins its push to get more failing students back into the classroom, believing that remote learning is not working for them, as many teachers as possible need to teach at school to end what he called “warehousing” on campus.
“Hundreds of kids, in some cases, that are in cafeterias, gymnasiums, media centers, because they’re trying to take a class and the teacher’s not there,” Runcie said. “If we’re gonna have our kids in schools, we need to have our teachers available.”
The district says about half of the roughly 1,500 teachers who were given accommodations, the ones with severe health conditions, will be given extensions and still be allowed to teach from home.