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As Sarasota County Schools Finalize Reopening Plan, Some Urge The District To Hit Pause

Sarasota High School
Sarasota County Schools
A group of Sarasota teachers and parents are pushing to have students remain fully online until the number of COVID-19 cases drop.

The Sarasota County School Board on Tuesday will offer details on the school district’s reopening plan. They will also finalize the district’s mask policy, determining what constitutes a mask and what exceptions will be made.

The Florida Department of Education last month approved the district's decision to push back the start of school in Sarasota County to August 31st.

But as the number of COVID-19 cases rise, a group of Sarasota County teachers and parents want the school board to reconsider that plan and to hit the pause button on a return to brick-and-mortar schools.

"I worry that we are going to open and there's going to be some teachers or staff members that get sick and it’s going to quickly spread like wildfire and we're going to have to close, said Sarasota County teacher Tiffany Pepsin. “I just think it’s silly to even risk one life just to open for a few weeks to say that we did it."

Pepsin and others in a group called Manasota Teachers, Parents, Students, and the Community Unite plan to participate in a car rally before Tuesday’s meeting.

Dozens of Sarasota teachers have also called on their union’s leadership to advocate for an all-remote start to the 2020-21 school year.

"We're the ones risking our lives and our health to go into the classroom,” said Pepsin. “I think it's only fair to at least let us put on record that we're scared and this isn't what we want. And it's not because we don't want to be back in the classroom. We miss our kids, we miss the classroom. We do this because of a calling," she added. 

A black car with a sign taped to a window that reads "Have a Heart Delay the Start."
Credit Facebook
Some Sarasota teachers say school re-openings will contribute significantly to community spread of COVID-19 infections.

"Very few teachers do this for the money. We want to be back in the classroom, it just isn't safe to be back in them right now."

School Districts across Florida are grappling with how to safely return to school amid a surge of COVID-19 cases.

School leaders in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties have announced they will begin the fall semester with remote only classes.

Last month Florida’s largest teachers’ union filed a lawsuit seeking to block the return to in-person classes.

Plaintiffs in the legal challenge, which include the Florida Education Association and three teachers from Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange counties, allege it is unconstitutional for the state to order schools to reopen while the number of COVID-19 cases in the state continues to skyrocket.

For now, Sarasota County teachers are expected to return to their schools on August 24 to prepare for the new school year. In a letter sent Monday to parents and teachers, incoming Sarasota School Superintendent Brennan Asplen acknowledged the stress some are feeling over reopening schools. 

"We have received many employee messages offering a wide spectrum of perspectives," it read. "I fully recognize that this is a challenging situation and not everyone has the same level of confidence or wants the same strategies implemented. I completely respect and understand that returning to school is unsettling; our personal families should always be our priority."

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