Broward teachers being brought back to classrooms despite medical concerns

About 1,500 Broward County teachers who suffer from serious illnesses and were granted accommodations to teach from home will have to return to the physical classroom next week.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – About 1,500 Broward County teachers who suffer from serious illnesses and were granted accommodations to teach from home will have to return to the physical classroom Monday.

Dawn Morley, who teaches first grade at Coral Springs PreK-8, was told her accommodation ends Friday.

Morley, 41, has an autoimmune disease and is currently taking immunosuppressant medication. She is frightened she will catch COVID-19 if she goes back to her brick and mortar school.

In an email Morley received Monday from her principal, she was told no accommodations would be extended.

“I can’t justify extending for some and not others, therefore; I will not be extending any. I understand you will be out and then taking a leave of absence,” Principal Vonda L. Oliver wrote.

“They just want to get everybody back in and they’re not considering my health concerns,” Morley said on a Zoom call with Local 10 News from her home. “Honestly I feel underappreciated.”

Given the current spike in positivity rates, she worries she may also contract the virus and infect her grandmother, who is currently under her care.

“The kids that were virtual before are still virtual now so there is no reason for them to actually change my accommodation,” Morley said.

Of the 16 students she teaches, Morley said 13 are home learning online. The others are back in the physical classroom learning from her online sessions, which she teaches from home.

Morley has been teaching from home since October, when the Broward County School District granted her the accommodation.

With the looming expiration, she fears she may have to take leave which she believes will further affect her health, financial situation as well as her students’ education.

“It was just take it or leave it. If you don’t like what we’re saying then you can take a leave of absence. Unfortunately, the leave of absence is without pay,” Morley said. “I just don’t understand how they expect the kids to do well if the teacher that they know and are familiar with is not there.”

Last month, Broward County reported 11 percent of their students had received an F grade in their report card.

Compared to last year, that’s a seven percent jump and school administrators believe online learning seems to be the root cause.

This week, district officials sent out approximately 59,000 letters to parents of students underperforming academically.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is urging parents whose children are having trouble with the online setup to send them back into the physical classroom.

In the letter, parents have to sign and decide whether to keep their children learning from home or sent back.

Educators have been highly critical of DeSantis who wants kids back in the brick and mortar classroom, but will not commit to giving teachers priority when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s unbelievable. I honestly feel like they’re giving us no choice,” Morley said. “It feels like everything that I’ve dedicated my life to so far is underappreciated.”

The possible return of thousands of kids back into the physical classroom is partly the reason the Broward School district may be forcing all teachers to return.

But Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said there is enough staffing to cover any gap and feels accommodations for teachers with critical illnesses should be extended.

“We have more than 90 percent of our teachers back in schools and we have about 20 percent of our student population. There are more than enough teachers to accommodate our students that are back on campus,” Fusco said.

Broward Principals and Assistants’ Association Executive Director Lisa Maxwell told Local 10 principals should not be responsible for extending accommodations based on medical issues.

In a letter to her members, Maxwell said, “You all have big hearts and I understand that you would do anything to help the people who work in your buildings but this situation which has been created in Tallahassee and as required, implemented by the School Board, leaves you no choice. Everyone must return unless they use another form of approved leave which you are not involved in approving.

Maxwell’s organization represents 568 principals and assistant principals, which she said is 89 percent of the total number of administrators in Broward County Schools.

Fusco said out of approximately 14,400 teachers, 4500 applied for accommodations. The district granted accommodations to about 1500 teachers, who suffer from illnesses like cancer, kidney disease and heart condition.

The Broward school district released the following statement:

“Broward County Public Schools understands the challenges our teachers and staff have faced through the COVID-19 pandemic. With that consideration in mind, our district granted more than 2,000 remote work assignments to employees, which is more than any other school district in South Florida. At the time the assignments were granted, they were given a date by which the permission would expire, notifying employees they would need to return to work on Monday, January 11, 2021. The letters sent on December 16 were sent as a reminder that the assignment would conclude on January 8. Any additional work assignment requests may be allowed based on the operational needs at each individual school.”

About the Author:

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.