July 14, 2020
Hernando Classroom Teachers’ Association on plans to reopen schools
BROOKSVILLE –The safety of students, our members, and the community is the absolute highest priority for Hernando Classroom Teachers’ Association (HCTA). As the professional association for instructional staff in Hernando County, we are deeply troubled by the Florida Department of Education’s order to reopen schools beginning next month just as Florida emerges as a global epicenter of COVID-19 cases.
The temporary effects of statewide interventions put in place by the governor in March and April have been undermined by a dangerous rush to return to ‘normal’. Not only is Florida currently setting records for new coronavirus cases nearly every day, but more than half of the 935 coronavirus cases here in Hernando were diagnosed in just the past two weeks. We cannot afford to dismiss this data when making decisions regarding our plans to resume instruction in the month ahead.
Teachers in Hernando want to welcome students back to the classroom this school year, but we must ensure that this is done in the safest way possible. Among surveyed HCTA members, 96% reported that they were aware of district plans for reopening, yet only 27% reported that they were comfortable with a return to face-to-face instruction. Many questions remain unanswered at this time, and assurances must be offered that risk to students and staff have been addressed prior to returning to our brick and mortar settings.
HCTA acknowledges--and is appreciative of--the District’s efforts to include the association, faculty and staff voices in the reopening task force discussions. Though neither a statewide nor countywide mandate has been issued for face masks in public spaces, we cannot in good conscience claim to offer appropriate safety provisions without requiring face coverings as recommended by the CDC. By far, the most significant thing we can do to provide for social distancing on campus is to purposefully plan for smaller class sizes. We are obligated to expand access to online and remote instruction which offers students and staff a return to learning with the least risk of exposure to the virus. We also need to ensure that the plans to resume instruction are intentional in addressing educational inequities exacerbated by this public health crisis.
Above all, HCTA—and educators across Florida—are collectively calling upon the state to guarantee the needed resources and flexibility for our district(s) to make and adjust plans based upon timely data and guidance from public health and safety experts. Sustained funding from the state is essential, not just to reopen but to maintain safe, appropriate educational opportunities for students throughout the year ahead.