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School employees concerned about returning to work; grading will resume soon for local students

MIAMI, Fla. – Tuesday was Day 2 of online learning for South Florida students after spring break, and it went more smoothly than Monday.

But some school staff in Broward County weren’t allowed to stay home, and they have serious concerns about being exposed to the new coronavirus.

Custodial staff and maintenance workers were required to return to work at Broward schools, which “wasn’t very well thought out,” says Daniel Reynolds, president of the Federation of Public Employees.

That union represents about 7,000 non-instructional workers in Broward, and Reynolds says his members worry they’re not being given the tools and ability to do their work safely, without being exposed to the virus.

“An employee may be asymptomatic but already testing positive and interacting with the public,” Reynolds said. “If they don’t have a mask and gloves on, they could be spreading the disease.”

Reynolds said the school district has been receptive to their concerns and he notes that the union is compiling a list of questions to bring to Superintendent Robert Runcie and his staff.

Runcie, in a statement Tuesday night, said: “We are, to the extent possible, having employees work remotely. This week, 15,000 of our teachers began to deliver distance learning to the District’s more than 270,000 learners. It is only essential staff who cannot work remotely who are being asked to report to work. When they do, we are working to ensure that CDC guidelines are followed, and that staff follows social distancing protocols. Food service employees, as an example, report to the school so we can provide meals to the community during this time of food insecurity. Physical plant operations and custodians are ensuring that buildings remain operational, that public interfacing spaces are sanitized and that other safety-based repairs are completed while teachers and students are not in the school buildings.”

As for the students, online class instruction continued Tuesday and will remain the new normal through at least May 1.

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said it has gone relatively smooth in his county. He announced that taking attendance and handing out grades will resume Monday.

“After this week of restarting the instructional continuity plan, the distance learning, it is time to bring some level of accountability,” he said. “Obviously we’re going to be working with students and parents and teachers for some degree of flexibility, but it is going to be more intense than students have had in the past.”

In Broward, technical issues with the online system called Canvas prevented tens of thousands of students from logging in Monday, but Runcie said, ”The experience that we see today is substantially better than yesterday.”

Both Broward and Miami-Dade returned from spring break Monday. Students in Dade had already experienced online learning before heading into break.

The school districts provided laptops to students in need so they could log on from home.


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