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Palm Beach County teachers union wants virtual learning to continue when school year begins

Letter to school board says returning to campus 'dangerous gamble'
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Posted at 4:48 PM, Jun 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 22:07:39-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — What will schools look like in August?

The union which represents Palm Beach County public school teachers is hoping the district will delay in-person classes from starting at the beginning of the school year.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus | Rebound South Florida

Public schools in Palm Beach County are scheduled to start school Aug. 10.

"I just feel like the kids just need to be in school," said parent Shannon Scolly. "They need that interaction with their teachers. They don't want to learn from their parents. And at least mine don't."

However, the Classroom Teachers Association said teachers are concerned about being in the classroom in August because of the pandemic. The president of the union sent the school district a formal request with his concerns, saying "returning to on-campus instructional activity in any capacity is a dangerous gamble."

"We are in a difficult spot, because even when you reduce the student population and those who chose not to come back on campus, you still have numbers that exceed all recommendations from the CDC," said Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association President Justin Katz.

The school district released the following statement on the issue: "The district is currently analyzing the results of two large scale reopening of schools surveys from parents and employees, and appreciates feedback from the classroom teachers association as well."

Katz hopes the school board members will discuss his suggestion during their school board workshop on Wednesday.

"I think that my wishes and the wishes of most teachers are that they plan for reopening campuses, that they set a timeline for virtual school to start on [Aug.] 10 and shortly thereafter evaluate the condition in society," said Katz.

Below is the full letter sent by the Palm Beach County teachers union to the school board:

Good afternoon, everyone.

The Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association is making the formal request to maintain the current start date for the 2020-2021 academic year, but limit instruction to virtual means with no on-campus activity with students until such time that the medical and scientific community are able to convey that it is safe to do so. For the past few weeks CTA has maintained that employees/students should have the choice to return to campus for instruction or opt for virtual instruction. The dangerous trajectory of COVID-19 cases in Florida has led us to believe that those choices should still be offered, but not until a point in time when the on-campus option can be executed in a safe and responsible manner. We no longer believe that is possible at this time.

I believe I am stating what most, if not all of us know to be the unfortunate reality of our situation. I watched the latest school board workshop. I am in near-daily communication with the superintendent, his district leadership team, many of you on the school board, as well as our teachers and parents. Everyone desperately wants to go back to campuses as soon as possible. We all know that in-person instruction cannot be matched by any other form of instruction. However, this cannot be allowed to occur until it is safe to do so. All evidence indicates that for the foreseeable future, returning to on-campus instructional activity in any capacity is a dangerous gamble at best and dramatically heightens the risks to the lives of both employees and students.

By starting the academic year via virtual instruction, this will buy time for society to rededicate itself to proper social distancing practices and for the school district to better plan and prepare logistically for an eventual return to campuses; while still providing a high quality education to our students.

The Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association and the District have a meeting scheduled for this coming Tuesday to discuss instructional staff expectations and guidelines for virtual instruction (whether it be full-time, a hybrid scenario, or otherwise) for the upcoming academic year. I am 100% confident that we will come to consensus on everything we need to, in order to provide a rigorous and robust virtual educational experience for all of our students. I have already made clear to most of you that next to safety, the quality of education that we provide is the absolute most pressing concern for the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association and our members. Our educators are up to the task and will deliver for our students and families.

I do not make this request lightly. If I sat in any of your seats on the school board my position would not alter. As president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, I am prepared to make tough choices and come to agreements that likely will test the limits of many of my own union members and every educator in the district; in the name of doing right by our students and their academic growth. I am also prepared to live with the consequences those decisions because I would rather risk earning the scorn of those in disagreement with my choices than risk their very lives. I ask of you, if you cannot say honestly to yourselves and to the public that we are operating in a medically advisable manner and as safe as we can possibly be on our campuses, to make similarly tough choices in your respective roles.

There are no simple solutions to any of this. There are no decisions that will not create disaffected parties. As leaders it is our job to accept these facts and the reality we are facing and work hard to deliver the highest quality education possible for the students in our communities.

Respectfully yours,

Justin Katz

President – Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association