Florida Teachers Union Leader: 'We Do Not Want To Be The Petri Dish For America'

Florida Teachers Union Leader: 'We Do Not Want To Be The Petri Dish For America'

5:36pm Jul 10, 2020
Children in an elementary school class wearing masks enter the classroom with desks spaced apart as per coronavirus guidelines in Monterey Park, Calif.
Children in an elementary school class wearing masks enter the classroom with desks spaced apart as per coronavirus guidelines in Monterey Park, Calif.
Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images

As Florida schools plan to reopen in just weeks, some educators fear the state is ill prepared to keep teachers and students safe.

"Our teachers here in Florida have high angst," Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, told NPR. "They are scared and frankly they're angry because they see a very irresponsible thought process in which to open our schools."

On Monday, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an executive order to reopen schools. The order — which is "subject to advice and orders" from health departments and other executive orders — requires that Florida schools "provide the full array of services that are required by law so that families who wish to educate their children in a brick and mortar school full time have the opportunity to do so."

"We spent months saying that there were certain things that were essential — that included fast food restaurants, it included Walmart, it included Home Depot," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday. "If all that is essential, then educating our kids is absolutely essential."

But the move has come under scrutiny from parents and educators at a time in which COVID-19 cases are surging across the state.

Ingram talked to Morning Edition host Rachel Martin about what that reopening means for educators in the state.

Here are excerpts of the conversation.

On how schools can mitigate the spread of the virus

We have 67 school districts here in the state of Florida, and we're going to have 67 different plans. And that's unfortunate because we're not getting any guidance, any regulations that say we have to do this, things that are guided by science. Listen, we have to attend to social distancing, hand washing stations, smaller class sizes, and we know that that is going to cost money. There [have] been no words from our governor or our federal government to say, listen, we know that it's going to cost more in this new normal to educate our kids than less money. And so in the void of the plan ... we have some courageous superintendents, some courageous school boards and courageous union leaders who are really trying to get together but here again, we open school in four weeks here in the state of Florida and we do not want to be the Petri dish for America.

On what it will take to open schools

We believe that schools can open. Schools can open if they are safe. Schools can open if they have the funding behind them. We are not saying that schools should be closed until we have a vaccine. Listen, it's going to take a comprehensive plan and there are things that we can do. ... But we need to sit down together. The teacher's voices haven't been heard, we seem to have a governor who is not guided by science at all, who is go it alone, being politically incorrect and being driven by the economy. And we should be driven by grace and compassion.

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