More than 5,000 Broward County Public Schools teachers have applied for permission to continue teaching from home during the coronavirus pandemic. So far, 842 have received those special accommodations.
The school district gives first priority to those who have serious health issues, and lower priority to those who have family members with health conditions.
Most teachers in the the system are back in their classrooms, but some have gone back only because their requests to continue remote teaching were rejected.
Schools and COVID
“Oh it’s frustrating, the whole thing is frustrating,” said Jim Gard, who teaches math at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“I have applied for accommodations and actually I received my denial letter yesterday,” said Dr. Katrina Harley, a teacher at Miramar High School.
Harley’s daughter has multiple sclerosis, is immunocompromised, so Harley is thinking of retiring. Her options, she says, are quitting or taking a leave of absence with no salary, and as a single mother of three, she cannot afford to do that.
“I cannot return back to work because I will not put my daughter in that predicament,” Harley said. “I’m very sad, I’m very disappointed and I’m lost, I’m lost in what to do.”
“I turn 64 next month so the age is a factor, I’m also a cancer survivor, in addition my wife and her son are both immunocompromised,” said David Fishkind, a teacher at Everglades High School, explaining his rationale for requesting accommodations.
Fishkind is mostly teaching in a near-empty classroom these days. His request was denied.
“I’d like to tell you I was angry. I’m not, I’m concerned,” Fishkind said.
Superintendent Robert Runcie told us the district simply cannot grant all these requests from teachers.
“We obviously can’t open our schools if we don’t have teachers for our students and so that’s been a challenge,” Runcie said. “We have a process in place that prioritizes and categorizes these things unfortunately, regrettably, that’s where we are.”
“My biggest concern is who’s actually making the decision, is it somebody with no medical expertise making the decision,” said Jim Gard, the math teacher from MSD High School.
Gard has a personal health issues, but his accommodation request was rejected. A district spokesperson told us staff from the Equal Educational Communities and Worker Compensation staff review all the requests and if additional medical expertise is need, and external medical review is done.
“I’m disappointed because I feel they could’ve done a better job but is this a district problem or a state problem?” Gard asked.
Like many teachers, he thinks threats from the state to cut funding to school districts if they don’t keep their schools open is the underlying motive to deny sot many accommodation requests.
Keep in mind only about 20% of Broward students are back in the classrooms, but Runcie said because of class scheduling issues, especially in high schools, the district needs the vast majority of its 15,000 teachers on the job to make the system work.