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Teachers’ union offers scores of recommendations for reopening schools

Suspend standardized tests, create flexible school days.

When Florida’s public schools reopen in the fall they’ll need to be prepared to change everything from how lunches are served to how students and schools are evaluated, advised a new report from the Florida Education Association.

The teachers’ union on Tuesday released a 17-page list of recommendations that it is offering to the state and to individual school districts. It calls for some broad initiatives such as the continued suspension of standardized tests, to more detailed points like elimination of active shooter drills, and supplying personal protective equipment for all students and staff.

In the era of the coronavirus, FEA President Fedrick Ingram, Vice President Andrew Spar, and members of the FEA’s “Statewide Committee to Safely Reopen Public Schools” said they were offering the recommendations as a base for school boards and state education leaders to build full reopening plans.

Ingram led the presentation Tuesday saying the FEA’s 25-member committee is necessary in part because the state’s official reopen Florida task force was light on educators, while heavy on business people with little knowledge of how classrooms operate.

“This serves for a conversation,” Ingram said.

Among others, he was joined by committee members David Richardson, a former state Representative who now is a Miami Beach City Commissioner, and Johanna Lopez, a former high school teacher who now is a member of the Orange County School Board.

The coming school year is likely to require hybrid education mixing both classroom time and online distance learning. Teachers, whom Ingram said “went into super-hero mode” when distance education was thrust upon them in March, have a good handle on what does or does not work, and need to have more input when the state and districts flesh out their plans.

He pointed out that the coronavirus crisis and the social unrest brought about from the George Floyd slaying create compounding issues, adding to the anxiety students, families and educators will bring with them in the fall.

“Both of these issues against a time clock of 70 days, less than three months, before the first Florida students are slated to go back into our public schools. This work is more important than ever,” he said.

Among the guidelines, suggestions, ideas and concerns the FEA committee raised:

— Seek policy waivers on number of student days, length of day, length of year, to allow for hybrid models or split scheduling for schools to ensure smaller classes and social distancing.

— Suspend current accountability system including standardized tests, school grades, and VAM scores.

— Provide sufficient funding for PPE for all staff and students.

— Create full compliance with CDC guidelines for safety, physical distancing, and sanitation.

— Maintain widespread accurate testing and contact tracing.

— Expand school clinic capabilities with triage and isolation areas for students that present with symptoms while they await parent pick up.

— Provide school leaders with clear guidance to establish procedures if students or staff become unwell.

— Allow employees who self-disclose a vulnerability associated with COVID-19 to continue to work remotely.

— Suspend requirements for fire drills, active shooter drills and other planned emergency drills which disrupt student learning and could lead to large gatherings of students and staff.

— Consider modifying attendance requirements so that students are held to the expectation of completing their work – not necessarily to “checking in” to class every day.

— Block arts classes and electives from funding cuts.

— Leverage available resources to provide more robust digital learning.

— Assure equitable education to make sure that computers and internet are available for all students.

— Provide instruction in Spanish and Creole where appropriate.

— Find ways to deliver accommodations digitally to students with special needs

— Extend additional funding for mental health services, additional staff training, risk and trauma assessments, and student and staff support

— Expand crisis teams to every school

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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