USEP has been working with the District since Spring Break to address concerns and advocate for employee rights, working conditions and compensation. Toward that end, we were able to preserve all jobs and health benefits through the end of last school year. We were also successful in addressing the numerous concerns of our members being thrust into a virtual platform. We got paid PD for online training, as well as PD points. Compensation was negotiated for those stand-alone and IB classes that were forced to write their own curriculum.
We have worked with senior District staff to ensure the safest environment for summer program, including VPK and ESY.
Events are changing as school districts throughout the state grapple with how to return to school safely for both students and employees. It is not different here in Pasco. The District recently sent out an “Intent To Return Survey” for both students and employees. USEP requested the raw data and the results are as follows:
|Return to School||MSOL||Either|
|EMPLOYEES (4730)||2202 (46.6%)||900 (19.02%)||1628 (34.4%)|
|Return to School||MSOL||Virtual|
|Students (56,946)||38,666 (67.9%)||13,848 (24.3%)||4,432 (7.8%)|
Clearly, the overall number reflects the large majority of employees and students want to return to a regular (Brick & Mortar) school setting. USEP has taken the approach that if safety measures outlined by the Federal CDC can be implemented, returning to a regular school will keep most employees in their paid positions with health benefits intact. Yes, there will some element of risk as no one can guarantee total safety in this environment. However, there are also other health and emotional consideration to employees and students that cannot be met otherwise, not to mention the overall academic impact on students.
We are now trying to advocate for the best and safest way to start the school year for 2020-2021. In an attempt to gather teacher and SRP input, USEP has sent out a survey to all employees. Please take a few minutes to complete this survey as it will provide us critical data.
Instructional link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FCY99LH
SRP link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3YZT3QK
Many conversations have been had regarding the options laid out for both students and employees. USEP has repeatedly asked to prioritize medically compromised employees to comply with CDC and national recommendations. Originally, we were told that MSOL would be able to be performed by employees off site. More recently that has changed to a blended class of some in class and some online. This significantly changes the environment for ADA employees. We are having conversation to rectify that situation.
We are also advocating masks for all students and employees, social distancing wherever possible (masks when not) and an increase in the frequency of cleaning of classrooms, offices, busses, air conditioners and anything else related to providing a safer teaching and learning environment. We asked for face shields for those who cannot or don’t want face masks, and the District complied. Additional PPE is being sent to worksites for the special needs of various ESE classrooms. Administrators are being urged to utilize one-way hallways, staggered dismissals and remote eating areas to try to diminish person to person contact. After conversation with District staff, waivers will not be required as a condition of student or employee return to school. Waivers may be used, however, for extracurricular activities where social distancing is impractical or cannot be done.
There are other concerns that we are working on currently, and I’m sure many more to come, but no amount of negotiating will guarantee total safety for all. You may also be aware that the Commissioner of Education put out an Executive Order requiring the opening of Brick & Mortar schools in order to get appropriate funding from the state. I am not a lawyer, but the Constitution of Florida states that citizens are to be provided a free Public education.
Article IX of the Florida Constitution, Section 1, states:
“(a) The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.”
It is my opinion that the Commissioner has over-reached his power and that this decision is ripe for litigation.
To be assured that our concerns can and will be met, USEP is advocating for a delay in the start of school until compliance can be assured. This would allow for more and better safety preparations as well as additional conversation with District staff to alleviate concerns prior to a return by students or employees.
Don Peace, USEP President