The Pinellas County School Board agreed in late July to push back its first day of classes by two weeks, in part to give the administration more time to prepare for a very different academic year.
Another key piece of the puzzle fell into place days later, as the district completed a memorandum of understanding with its teachers union related to working conditions in the pandemic.
Some districts in Florida, such as Martin County, failed to reach terms with their teachers, leading them to cancel plans to postpone classes. The Orange County teachers union sued its district, claiming its reopening plan did not provide a safe and secure teaching environment.
With a signed MOU, Pinellas paves the way to an easier path back to school.
The agreement tackles two issues that teachers have focused on in recent weeks: Safety precautions and teaching assignments.
In the area of safety, the district agreed to provide “adequate” cleaning supplies for individual classrooms, but not to require teachers to be responsible for that cleaning. The district will adopt protocols for plant managers and maintenance staff to follow for keeping the buildings sanitized.
The deal further states that school visits will be limited for at least the first nine weeks, with volunteer and mentoring activities to take place virtually. It agrees to provide five cloth masks for every employee and student, with added facial shields, gloves and scrubs for employees who need them for their job.
Students who refuse to wear masks will first be educated on the need, and then face possible reassignment to online education, according to the document. Administrators, not teachers, would be responsible for handling the situation, which would be considered a health concern rather than a disciplinary action.
The document also sets for a model for trying to implement social distancing in classrooms: “The configuration of classrooms will provide for a two-foot teacher wall and an additional six-feet between the wall and student desks.”
A full-time nurse is to be on every campus, and teacher planning is to be conducted virtually whenever possible.
Regarding teacher assignments, the memorandum does not guarantee that any teacher who wants to instruct online will get to do so. It has been a bone of contention for many educators that families get to choose their schooling model, while they do not have such options.
“The number of students choosing to participate in MyPCS Online will dictate the number of positions available for instructional employees who apply to work in a remote setting,” it states.
It then sets forth an order for teachers to be granted the positions, if there are more applicants than openings. Those include personal medical condition first, age second, and medical concerns of others in one’s home third.
To take an online position, teachers must complete a 3-hour training session before the school year begins.