The Broward Teachers Union (BTU) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are launching a radio ad targeting Broward County’s decision to require more than a thousand teachers to return to the classroom this month amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The six-figure ad campaign follows a BTU lawsuit pushing back against the decision by Broward County Public Schools and Superintendent Robert Runcie.
The lawsuit sought to to prevent the school district from canceling all online teaching assignments, which had been granted for a limited number of employees with very serious medical conditions.
“This is not about reopening school buildings for in-person learning for students — it’s about ensuring we keep everyone safe in a surging pandemic,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “If Runcie cares about the health and safety of educators and students like he claims, then he should honor the accommodations made to protect these educators.”
Runcie says some teachers with serious health risks would still be able to teach from home, but more teachers are required in the classroom as more parents elect to send their students back for in-person learning.
“I know first-hand that we have staff with significant health concerns,” Runcie said. “As of this morning, our schools have granted over 600 remote work assignments based on operational needs.”
Still, Runcie conceded that not all exemptions would be granted. The unions are pushing back against the decision with the new minute-long ad.
“This past year, our teachers have shown up and risen to meet the moment again and again,” the ad’s narrator says.
“Some of our teachers are facing challenges of their own: cancer, kidney disease, diabetes and other life-threatening conditions. That’s why it’s nothing short of a betrayal when Superintendent Robert Runcie said he would force medically high-risk teachers into environments that threaten their health and could endanger their lives. It’s not how we treat our teachers who in the midst of COVID continue to work full time educating our students, half of whom remain at home learning online. This is an outrageous betrayal.”
The radio ad will be available in Spanish as well.
The union and Runcie disagree about when the school district is allowed to order teachers back into the classroom. Runcie says the arrangement guaranteeing flexibility expired on Jan. 11. The union argues it remains in effect until the end of June.
“It’s completely unnecessary to put these educators’ lives in danger when they are already teaching full time at home, and it is a betrayal of the agreement we reached in good faith to protect our most vulnerable educators,” said BTU President Anna Fusco.
Both groups do agree on ensuring teachers are granted access to the COVID-19 vaccine. “Our schools are essential to the function of our economy and if we’re serious about opening our economy, we cannot do that without fully reopening our schools,” Runcie said.