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Florida teacher: 'In wanting to save the kids, I got to make sure I save myself'

Florida's new mandate ordering all schools open in the fall has teachers worried about their own health.

FLORIDA, USA — Florida's new mandate ensures that every child in Florida has a classroom to return to in the fall.

Every school building must open at least five days a week, and while districts are still working on plans that offer alternative options for learning, many Florida teachers feel like they don't have a say in the matter.

"People are very worried about their health. They have sick kids at home, sick parents living with them. They have sick spouses. I have never seen so many concerns about health in my career," said Barry Dubin, the executive director of the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association.

With coronavirus cases surging in Florida, the new order might seem contradictory. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with many health care professionals, see a great benefit to having school buildings open despite the risk of COVID-19.

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"Chances are, the kid getting very, very sick or having serious consequences is very low but we can’t say that about the teachers or the vendors or the workers that come in the school," said Dr. Jill Roberts, and infectious disease expert with the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

An online petition called "Rescind executive order requiring all Florida public K-12 schools to reopen August 2020" had nearly 6,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. 

The petition says, "Florida’s Governor DeSantis refuses to mandate the wearing of masks (proper PPE) statewide, yet is totally comfortable sending teachers back to school, potentially in harm's way."

Shawanda Bonner Morgan is a middle school teacher in Polk County. As someone living with pre-diabetes and high blood pressure, she's worried about her own health and bringing the virus home to her elderly family members.

"You cannot have a system if you don’t save the people first," Bonner Morgan said.

Bonner Morgan hopes a compromise can be reached that ensures safety and well-being for all students and staff. With many districts offering some remote teaching positions, educators worry about those being forced into the classrooms.

Dubin believes we'll see more early retirements and leaves of absence from teachers, which could turn into a staffing shortage.

"There will not be as many remote positions available as teachers who want them so the question becomes how do we make that environment as safe as we can to students and teachers?" Dubin said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis' office sent 10 Tampa Bay this statement:

"The goal of the DOE Emergency Order is to ensure schools are open Monday through Friday, ready to serve students 5 days a week, while creating equitable alternative opportunities for families with health concerns.

The order gives districts, schools and parents flexibility on how to compassionately maintain education for medically vulnerable students and families. Local school districts are encouraged to work with administrators, educators, school boards, and most importantly local county health departments, to create a safe, healthy and productive learning environment for all. 

The education of our children, the comprehensive health of our families --- mental health and stability in homes --- and our economy depend on ensuring that school campuses reopen this fall."  

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