Pinellas teachers rally again to keep online learning until it’s safe to reopen schools

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Local school districts are trying to figure out how to start the school year in the midst of a raging coronavirus pandemic. The Tampa Bay Times reports that 60 percent of Pinellas parents who have responded have chosen online schooling instead of in-person classrooms.

The Pinellas School Board will talk about those results Tuesday afternoon. School board members will also review a proposal to delay the start of school by two weeks.

But many Pinellas teachers insist that it still won’t be safe to return to brick-and-mortar schools by then. So they’re rallying again Tuesday afternoon outside the school district’s headquarters.

WMNF interviewed one participant in the rally, Richie Floyd, who teaches science and engineering at Azalea Middle School in Pinellas County.

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Floyd is part of Tuesday afternoon’s “Pinellas Rally for a Virtual Return to Campus.” It’s from 4:30 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, July 28 in Largo outside the Pinellas County School District building at 301 4th Street Southwest.

“I don’t know if protest is the best word. Really it’s just sort of a rally to get together to say, hey, let’s tell the school board who’s meeting today at 5:00 p.m, to tell the school board, hey, we don’t feel safe going back to schools under this current situation during this current plan.

“The plan has been presented to us, doesn’t feel like it’s going to keep us safe and safety is our number one concern as teachers. Nothing is more important than the safety of our students, our co-workers and just our community overall. So we’re having a rally today to let them know that’s how we feel.”

What would make you feel safer? Would it be opening schools virtually or would it be delaying the start of schools?

“They’ve already delayed the start of schools about 10 days. But unfortunately, our government hasn’t really done anything to make things better so what we’re asking for is at least a virtual start to the school year, the first nine weeks. And we hope that during that time we can get our act together and make the plan safer, make cases go down.

“Ideally, we wouldn’t start school until i think the national movement says 14 days with no new cases. Right now we’re just trying to get a virtual start. We’re hoping for a virtual start so we can at least make the cases go down some.”

One of the arguments against something like that is that not all kids have equal access to either internet or to parents having childcare options. How would you take that into account?

“I agree. It’s a very difficult situation for everyone involved. And I think that we’ve spent the past four, six weeks I don’t know how long the district’s been formulating this plan, trying to figure out a way to get kids in the classroom when we’ve been told by the Pinellas Department of Health that they do expect to see cases. That they do expect to see schools shut back down.”

“I would like for us to stop pretending, really, like we are going to be able to actually execute this plan [returning to in-person instruction] completely safely. And instead for all of us to spend our time solving the issues that you just brought up.

“We could figure out how we could reach students who have difficulty with technology. We could be figuring out how we could support parents who need the support.

“If we were spending all of our time doing that it would be helpful. I am really worried we are going to get down to the last second of our decision-making process and then we’re going to switch to, oh we have to do virtual because cases are too high within classrooms and then we’re not going to have spent any time figuring those issues out.

“The people I’ve been working with have been talking to community partners particularly across South St. Petersburg to try to provide some support, food, basic child care, as best as we possibly can. But really the issue is that we’re going to have to demand more from the people in charge right now. Teachers should not be the ones solving all of society’s problems. And that’s part of the thing that we’re bringing forward right now.”

“We’re going to have a few speakers and just sort of make our voice heard. We’re going to have cars driving around for people who aren’t comfortable. We’re going to be socially distant. Everyone’s wearing a mask. We’re going to have cleaning supplies for any microphones or shared objects at the rally. So it’s a socially distanced rally in front of the school board building.”

The Pinellas School Board meeting begins at 5:00 p.m. Tuesday and is online.

Florida’s death count from the coronavirus has spiked to a new record with 191 reported fatalities. That’s according to the state Health Department. That brings the total number of coronavirus deaths in Florida to more than 6,100. The health department also again reported more than 9,200 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total for the pandemic to nearly 442,000.

information from the Associated Press was used in this report

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Listen to the 5:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 28 July 2020:

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