On schools, Florida not following its own advice

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Posted July 13, 2020 | By Cheryl Lindstrom
Guest Columnist

I am a classroom teacher. I have a lot of questions and concerns for opening our schools. Not in any particular order:

  • Leave the classroom door open to avoid touching it too much? Yet, t needs to be closed and locked per ALICE.
  • Social distancing. But how for fire drills? Code red or yellow? Active shooter drills?
  • A student gets the virus? Now what? Teacher quarantined for 14 days? Does this require sick leave? Personal leave? Paid or unpaid? What about the other students in the class? Other students in later classes? Six teachers, six classes of 20-plus = 126 exposed.
  • There are 1,400-plus students served by my school.
  • If I catch the virus, are my medical costs and lost wages covered by workman’s comp?
  • Are we checking temperatures? Wearing masks?

The governor and surgeon general reminded Floridians on the 4th of July to protect the vulnerable by avoiding the Three C’s: closed spaces, crowded places, close contact. This describes my middle school classroom.

They warned Floridians to continue best practices of social distancing, stay home with symptoms, clean and disinfect surfaces, wash your hands. Social distancing at 6 feet in our schools? We grapple with trying to get students 3 feet apart for testing.

Stay home with symptoms? Parents send sick children to school all the time.

Clean and disinfect surfaces? With what? And by whom? This will need to happen after every single class period. In salons, a 15-minute gap between clients is required for disinfecting. At my school, there are 4 minutes between classes.

Wash your hands? Good idea. But in my hallway there are two bathrooms with a total of four sinks and two hand dryers and approximately 250 students per building.

Consider your faculty and staff. We have risen to the occasion and, in an instant, became virtual/online instructors. We practiced our craft with fidelity and worked diligently to provide a quality learning experience for our students. We worked well beyond our contract hours.

We deserve and have earned respect, to be valued for our contribution, to be considered when this decision is made as we are the vulnerable ones — being asked again to give and do more than any other group,   to risk our very lives.

I miss my students. I miss my colleagues. I miss my classroom. But I want to live.

Do I need to just quit? Is that what happens to the vulnerable ones of us? We’re just dismissed because we don’t want to take the risk? After the years of dedicated service to our schools, our students and our communities?

I have read the executive order issued by Commissioner Corcoran requiring schools open in August, five days each week.

And I have read the OSHA Act of 1970 general duty clause, specifically 5(a)(1): (a) Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.

Marion County COVID-19 numbers are rising.
Florida’s COVID-19 numbers are staggering.
Florida is not following its own advice.

I am asking you to implement a delayed start or at the very least, stagger the attendance, half the school for two days each, with a day for deep cleaning.

Your decision will resound for generations.
Please make the right one for our teachers and our children.

Cheryl Lindstrom is a veteran civics teacher at Belleview Middle School.

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