MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – United Teachers of Dade and the Broward Teachers Union representatives accused state and school district authorities on Wednesday of negligence and recklessness for rushing to reopen schools without investing in the implementation of safety measures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Karla Hernández-Mats, the president of UTD, and Anna Fusco, the president of BTU, said the current conditions are not suitable for a safe return to face-to-face instruction. The union leaders said there are contradictory messages going out to school administrators about social distancing.
“Lives are going to be lost,” Hernández-Mats said during the news conference, adding "They are going to crowd kids in a classroom.”
The unions accused Gov. Ron DeSantis and Richard Corcoran, the state’s commissioner of education, of threatening to take away funding from districts to pressure the reopening of classrooms in October when funding is considered.
“The decision to commence face-to-face instruction needs to be made based on science and the best medical data available. We have always said that. We are teachers: We believe in science; we believe in data — not on partisan politics or short-term economic factors,” Hernández-Mats said.
The Florida Department of Education determines how much funding the district receives by conducting surveys on Oct. 5-9 and Feb. 8-12. The district’s decision to reopen without a clear safety plan and time to train and prepare is based on the link between funding and student population, Hernández-Mats said.
But according to Miami-Dade School District officials, no matter when schools reopen, a July 6 executive order guaranteed funding for the fall semester.
Fusco said the rush to get funding is pushing the districts to reopen classrooms without following the proper safety guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The union leaders said the parameters requested are within the American Federation of Teachers' blueprint.
Fusco said one important question to the district has gone unanswered: “What will you do when the deaths start happening?”
Stefanie Miller, a teacher at Fox Trail Elementary in Davie, said she is scared. She survived COVID-19 after spending 21 days in a ventilator at Memorial West Hospital. She underwent treatment with convalescent plasma and antiviral drug remdesivir.
“There is no reason to put anyone in harm’s way,” Miller said Wednesday.
More teachers than usual are considering resignations, early retirements, and leaves of absence, Fusco said. Hernández-Mats said veteran teachers are especially concerned about the risk and they want more options for early retirement to avoid risking a coronavirus infection.
“We all deserve to go back into safe schools,” Fusco said, adding “We do not know the cleaning products that are being used ... We do not know who will be cleaning intermittently during the day.”
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie did not respond to requests for comment. Instead, the districts released generic statements on Wednesday afternoon.
Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Public Schools, said the district is following national and state health guidance to ensure that schools are sanitized and well maintained.
“The wellbeing of our students and our workforce is always at the forefront of our actions,” Gonzalez-Diego wrote. “Our approach to the reopening of schools is based on science and is informed by what is happening at the local level."
Broward County Public Schools' office of communication released a statement saying the health and safety of students and staff is the district’s main priority. The school board will be discussing the district’s Phase 2 of the school reopening plan on Sept. 22.
The union representatives remain skeptical and they are asking teachers and staff to use “#SafeSchoolsSFL” on social media to highlight safety issues.
Related stories: Miller’s journey of survival
Watch complete news conference