Miami-Dade teachers rush to rearrange classrooms to allow social distancing

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Mayra Mora has been working as a teacher for more than three decades. She said she loves her job, but she has never felt like she had to risk her life to do so during a deadly pandemic.

Mora teaches English to children from first to fifth grade at Irving & Beatrice Peskoe K-8 Center, west of the Homestead Air Reserve Base in Miami-Dade County.

On Friday, Mora used her first planning day of the 2020-21 school year to set up the classroom in a way that can help her social distance. It hasn’t been easy to prepare for students' return on Monday.

“We have had to limit our shelf area,” Mora said, adding she is feeling a mixture of apprehension and excitement. “I have missed my kids for over six months but I am very concerned about my health because I have underlying health conditions.”

Teacher Mayra Mora separates students' desks to provide a few feet of social distancing for their return to the classroom on Monday. (Courtesy of Mayra Mora)

Teachers like her know many of their students' parents can’t afford to get sick with COVID-19, and some are from Central and South American countries where intergenerational households are the norm.

According to the Florida Department of Health, Miami-Dade County has had 77,631 confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,415 deaths associated with COVID-19. The data shows about 81% of the Miami-Dade patients who died were age 65 and older.

Miami-Dade’s coronavirus testing positivity rate has been under 10% since Aug. 18 and its most recent spike was on Sept. 28 when it increased from 2.72% to 6.78%, FDOH data shows.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools' new reopening schedule (MDCPS)

The Miami-Dade School Board voted on Tuesday to start the gradual reopening of 392 schoolhouses in the fourth largest school district in the country on Monday.

Within a few days, United Teachers of Dade was already reporting some schools were not ready. rushed to collect supplies to help teachers who said they needed help.

“School sites are still lacking viable disinfecting supplies, such as hand sanitizers, antibacterial soap, social distancing markers and masks,” Karla Hernández-Mats, the union president, said on Thursday.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was not available to respond. Miami-Dade School Board member Marta Pérez said she has a more hopeful outlook.

On Tuesday, 9th-grade students will return to John A. Ferguson Senior High School at 15900 SW 56 St., near the Kendall West area. Pérez visited the school on Friday.

At the entrance of the school, administrators placed educational signs, hand sanitizer, and included a health questionnaire during the check-in process.

“Every school has a two-page list," Pérez said. “Every school principal is responsible for everything and I believe everyone will be ready.”

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About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.