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Arbitrator rules Broward School District can require teachers to resume in-person learning

Broward Schools could require teachers to return to their classrooms, an arbitrator ordered Monday.
Broward Schools could require teachers to return to their classrooms, an arbitrator ordered Monday.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Broward Schools may require teachers to return to their classrooms to meet the operational needs of schools, an arbitrator ordered Monday.

For weeks, the Broward School District and the Broward Teachers Union have been dueling over how to move forward.

The arbitration hearing was held Jan. 21-23, following a Jan. 7 lawsuit the Broward Teachers Union filed on behalf of 1,700 teachers who the district granted accommodations to continue working remotely because of serious underlying health conditions.

BTU’s suit, filed in Broward County Circuit Court, sought an injunction to prevent the district’s increase of COVID-19 exposure of the most medically fragile educators until an arbitrator decided the dispute on an emergency expedited basis.

A day later, Superintendent Robert Runcie then announced the district had granted remote teaching assignments to more than 600 teachers, something he added had been in the works for weeks and was not linked to the lawsuit.

“It is not within the Arbitrator’s power to decide whether it is a good idea or a bad idea to have teachers return to their classrooms, said Arbitrator Roger Abrams. “Rather, it is the Arbitrator’s job to decide what the parties have agreed to in their Memorandum of Agreement.”

“This is a win for our students,” Runcie said in a statement. “We recognize the health concerns of our teachers and will continue to balance their needs with the needs of students who are struggling and must be back in a safe and healthy school for face-to-face learning.”

The order also says the district cannot “act in an arbitrary and capricious fashion.”

“In order to monitor compliance with this guidepost, the Union must be supplied information in a timely fashion of how the principals exercised their right to grant or deny remote assignments,” Abrams wrote.

The union does not see the order as a complete loss.

“Principals must now provide documents justifying their decisions,” Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said. “We have been asking Runcie to give us information for months. He stonewalled and prevented BTU from finding out how principals reached their decisions. Now there is a binding decision that Runcie must follow. Runcie will finally be brought to account.”

The 1,100 teachers whose accommodations were not extended had to return to the physical classroom the week of Jan. 11. Local 10 spoke to several teachers who said they couldn’t put their health on the online and decided to take temporary leave, resign or retire.

In a memo from human resources, Local 10 learned that, compared to last year, there are 12 more people taking a leave this year. Five additional teachers resigned.

But the biggest change was in the retirement category, where an additional 232 additional teachers chose that option (an increase from 108 last year to 340 this year).

With 37% of students back to in-classroom learning, the union argues that the district should allow those teachers with underlying conditions to continue to work from home.

View the Arbitrator’s full ruling below:

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.