Pasco Teachers: 'We Want To See Our Kids. But We Also Don't Want To Die.'
As coronvirus cases continue to rise in Florida, most counties are going with a hybrid plan that has many students attending school at least part-time. WUSF is amplifying the voices affected by this issue.
Today, we hear from Jeremy Blythe, a culinary teacher at Land O' Lakes High School in Pasco County. He recently organized a "motor march" protest for teachers to push for virtual school only until the state's positive cases average fewer than 5% over a 14-day period.
He says teachers are even more fearful after a fellow Pasco teacher - Renee Dermott of Seven Springs Middle School - died from COVID-19 last week.
"Collectively, we're all already scared. We're already nervous about contracting the disease and what long term effects it'll have. Or will it kill us? You know, so seeing that, our heart goes out to Renee and her family and her loved ones and friends. It's heartbreaking.
Staff really wasn't given options. We were to a degree, but it was basically return or resign.
One of the biggest frustrations is that we as teachers are expected to make informed decisions based on data and adjust our teaching accordingly. And that's not happening; they're not doing that. So why are we expected to follow the data and make informed decisions for our kids, when that's not being done at the executive level?
What we really want to make sure people know is that we want to go back and be with our kids. I believe that there is a misconception amongst some people in the public that teachers are lazy, and that they don't want to be with their kids. They don't want to go back to work. We want to see our kids. We love our kids. We want to be back in school with them more than anything. This is not what we want either.
But we also don't want to die. We don't want to bury a kid. We don't want to bury a colleague, you know, and with what's just happened with Renee, we're just looking for more of the same at this point. It's inevitable."
Blythe’s group is asking for the following criteria to be in place to safely reopen schools before an effective vaccine is widely available:
•Virtual and/or postponed instruction until Pasco and the state of Florida have a 14-day average of less than 5% positivity rate
•Rigorous testing and tracing: Widespread, accessible, and frequent screening, testing, tracing, and isolation of new cases
•Thorough protection and prevention: Rigorous cleaning and disinfection, proper ventilation, effective PPE provided for all students and staff, and remote work and learning for the most vulnerable students and staff
•Masks for everyone on school campuses, not just on buses and during class changes, but also in classrooms.
•Consistent social distancing: Student and staff schedules are designed to ensure small, stable groups with at least 6-feet between all people at all times
•Full-time option for Pasco County K-12 students
The school board did vote Tuesday night after the motor march to delay the start of the school year by two weeks.
Teachers will start on Aug. 17 instead of Aug. 3 and will be paid for those two weeks. Students will now start back Aug. 24 instead of Aug. 10.
Pasco schools are not requiring masks.
This story is produced in partnership with America Amplified, an initiative using community engagement to inform local journalism. It is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.