Why Florida teachers union is focused on equity in reopening

'Any plan to reopen schools that seeks a return to normal falls short,' report says.
By: | June 3, 2020
Florida's statewide teachers union, The Florida Education Association, says school leaders reopening their biuldings must acknowlege that closures had a bigger impact on the neediest students and children with disabilities.(GettyImages.com/ Kseniya Ovchinnikova)

Health and student equity drive a set of recommendations for reopening schools safely in which Florida’s statewide teachers union urges educators to not ‘return to normal’ in the fall.

The Florida Education Association says district leaders and their teams must use the summer to develop procedures for not only preventing the spread of the coronavirus, but for ensuring all students have equitable access to instruction.

School closures have the biggest impact on the state’s neediest students, the union wrote in its report.

“We further recognize that students of color are more likely to attend schools that are underfunded, schools with less experienced teachers and schools with less rigorous course offerings,” the report says. “Any plan to reopen schools that seeks a return to normal falls short.”

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The union’s recommendations cover student success, health and safety, social-emotional wellness, working conditions and funding.

Ensuring equity when schools reopen

The union offers guidance in tackling the “COVID-19 slide” learning loss that it expects will have a greater impact on disadvantaged students who did not have reliable internet access. Its recommendations for hybrid in-person/online instruction include:

  • 1-to-1 device programs for all students
  • Seeking policy waivers on the number of student days, length of day and length of year to create split schedules that allows smaller classes and social distancing.
  • Eliminating testing that is not for diagnostic purposes for the 2020-2021 school year.
  • Suspend accountability systems including standardized tests and school grades.
  • Suspend requirements for fire drills, active shooter drills and other emergency drills that disrupt student learning and lead to large gatherings of students and staff.
  • Enact attendance requirements that hold students to the expectation of completing their work rather than “checking in” to class every day.
  • Ensure online learning offers appropriate accommodations for English-language learners and all students with disabilities.

Districts must also focus on social and emotional well-being, which will require additional staff and funding for mental health care.

Students, teachers and staff will also need sensitivity training when schools reopen and throughout the year.

Districts should also use social workers to build relationships with families to better identify the needs of individual students and support the transition back to classrooms.

A healthy reopening of schools

District leaders must communicate their safety plans clearly to families and staff to better ensure everyone is comfortable re-entering school facilities, the union says.

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This includes having a plan to transport students to school safely, an ability test for COVID-19 and trace contacts of those who fall ill, and having sufficient PPE and sanitizing supplies.

Classrooms must also be reconfigured to allow for social distancing, and employees with pre-existing health issues should be allowed to continue working remotely.

Because PPE can provide a false sense of security, students, staff and teachers will need training and constant reminders about how to keep themselves healthy.

School clinics also will need “triage” capacity to isolate symptomatic students who are awaiting pickup.

DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.