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Employees union calls for delay in restarting Pasco schools

More time is needed to get proper health and safety protocols in place, USEP leaders say.

The United School Employees of Pasco recognizes that many parents intend to send their children back to in-person classes, and many teachers have said they’ll be there to lead the lessons.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the schools are prepared to handle the load, though, president Don Peace suggested.

In a letter to members sent late Thursday, Peace said his organization wants to see “the best and safest way to start the school year.” That effort should include masks as necessary, social distancing, cleaning procedures and all the other things that the experts have called for in response to the coronavirus, he said — in all, a large number of continuing concerns.

So much remains on the list, in fact, that Peace suggested it can’t all get done by the Aug. 10 start of school that’s currently on the calendar.

“To be assured that our concerns can and will be met, USEP is advocating for a delay in the start of school until compliance can be assured,” Peace wrote.

District officials acknowledged that neighboring counties are taking that approach. They also recognized that Pasco’s COVID-19 situation, though not necessarily as hot as in Hillsborough and Pinellas, is troublesome.

In the past week, the county has averaged more than 120 new reported cases per day, with hospitalizations and deaths rising.

But they haven’t taken any steps to postpone a return. Yet.

“At this time, the start of school is Aug. 10,” district spokesman Steve Hegarty said Friday.

The School Board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, and board members have signaled a willingness to discuss the matter further. Already on the agenda is the administration’s proposal to mandate masks.

“Everything is on the table, as far as I’m concerned,” said board member Alison Crumbley.

She and others said they have been asking plenty of questions about the possibilities of shifting the calendar. Their lawyer, Dennis Alfonso, has told them that there’s no question they have the authority to alter the dates, as so many other districts have done.

A perhaps larger question, though, centers on how such a change would affect employees. If they don’t work for two extra weeks, they also don’t get paid for two extra weeks, Alfonso noted.

That could impact employees who don’t get paychecks during the summer, a shrinking number as the district has moved to year-round pay after lengthy debate over the subject.

USEP and district negotiators have had regular informal conversations about such issues, but haven’t yet called for official talks to hash out details, district employee relations director Kathy Scalise said. They’ve decided to wait until some decisions are made by the board, Scalise said, and then come to the table for impact bargaining, if nothing else.

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