Broward goes back to school with COVID concerns, staff shortages

First day of classes is Wednesday and district is 400 teachers short, union says

Wednesday is the first day of school for Broward County public schools. Masks will be mandatory, and the teachers union president is pushing for required COVID-19 testing for staff members who aren't vaccinated.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – School is back in session Wednesday in Broward County, and at a time when pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising, some are worried more children could get since as they return to the classroom.

“Still a little nervous because we know our 12-and-under [students] can’t be vaccinated,” said Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union.

Among the protocols in place to keep kids safe, masks are required for all students and staff, with exceptions for medical issues.

“Our purpose here is basically to keep them healthy, to keep them safe,” said Barbara Bothman, principal at Forest Hills Elementary in Coral Springs.

Because desks will be 3 feet apart, there would need to be fewer kids per class and therefore more classes in general, but Fusco says there aren’t enough teachers to go around.

“Right now we are about 400 short. We are working on getting them hired,” she said.

When asked why there is such a shortage, she said, “It’s just a profession that you know, [is] not paid well.”

Fusco says social distancing will be a big challenge. Last year, many students were out of the classroom doing online learning.

“Last year we had about 60 to 70% of our middle and high school students that were not on campus and our elementary school was over 50%,” she said. “So the social distancing was not such a challenge, but now we are at 100%.”

While most school district employees are vaccinated, Fusco said some are not.

The Broward School Board, which met Tuesday morning, is planning to give a $250 incentive to employees who get the shot. Eligible employees will have until Oct. 20th to submit proof of full vaccination.

“I’m going to speaking in the board meeting today to ask for mandated testing if you’re not vaccinated,” Fusco said.

She added that if students don’t want to wear face masks, staff will have a conversation with them about why and try to gain their compliance.

The school will call their parents as a last resort.