The Florida Education Association unveiled Tuesday a sweeping, 10-page list of measures which leaders said should be in place when schools begin again in August.
Social distancing on school buses, some classes taught remotely, personal protection gear for teaching and support staff and hand-sanitizer everywhere are just some of the recommendations from the state’s largest teachers union for the restart of school for the fall term.
While state officials haven’t yet laid out plans, the Florida Education Association unveiled Tuesday a sweeping, 10-page list of measures that leaders said should be in place when schools begin again in August.
"We are imploring our lawmakers to get serious, and get going so that we can open school with the same zeal and fervor that we always have," said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. "We don’t want to go into the school year with question marks, with people wondering how they’re going to be safe and stay healthy."
Ingram said the union would support mandatory testing of students, staff and visitors to school campuses. Health screening and tracing of any student or staffer who tests positive for coronavirus should also be a requirement, FEA leaders said.
"We are going with science. That’s going to cost money. But there should be no doubt in our minds about keeping people safe," Ingram added.
The union recommendations stem from a 25-member task force FEA organized to look at the reopening, which is just a little over two months away.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education are exploring many of the same issues ahead of students returning to campuses, but so far have said little about what to expect.
"We know that Florida can only hit its economic stride if schools are open," said Taryn Fenske, a DOE spokeswoman. "That is why it’s critical to take a step-by-step, phased-in approach to reopening Florida’s schools.
"We continue to welcome any and all feedback, and we will certainly fully review the FEA’s recommendations as we have with literally every organization’s recommendations that we receive," she added.
FEA outlined a wide range of proposals.
Along with testing and screening, they included cleaning schools, distancing, limiting crowds and reconfiguring campuses — possibly having students each lunch in classrooms, for example, or having teachers, not students, go from class-to-class during the school day.
FEA also cited the pandemic and its effect as a reason to eliminate mandatory student testing for the 2020-21 school year — a fight the union has been waging for long before the virus sent students home in March.
Such testing is used to evaluate students and schools in Florida, and the results also help determine teacher salaries, long a point of friction between the union and the state’s Republican leaders.
Students, particularly from low-income or struggling families without internet access to complete lesson plans, likely will need more remedial attention next school year. Similarly, students in homes where English is not the primary language may face some catching up when they return to the classroom, educators said.
The FEA also recommended suspending current requirements for fire drills, active shooter drills and other emergency training events, which can draw together large groups of students and staff.
The union said it is encouraging additional state funding and staff for mental health counseling and other efforts to help students with the emotional demands stemming from the coronavirus, the disjointed school year that just ended and the reentry onto campus.
Mental health counseling has always gotten short shrift in schools, leaders said, but it’s needed now more than ever.
"This was a problem before the pandemic, so I’d say statewide the call has been for years we need to be more sincere about the mental health services we need to provide for our students," said Carol Cleaver, an Escambia County teacher.
This story originally published to heraldtribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.