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Pinellas teachers worry the district isn't ready for school reopening

Some teachers say they're not ready to make their decisions to head back because they haven't had enough time to see the district's plans.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Monday marks the deadline for parents to choose how their child will return to school in Pinellas, Polk and Hernando counties.

Parents can choose to send their students to class in-person or online. Either way, some teachers on the other end of that decision say they're not ready to decide.

Teachers in Pinellas County gathered in front of the district office before the last school board meeting and they plan to do it again on Tuesday. Some are concerned that they haven't had enough time to see safety changes promised by the district and that they haven't seen a clear plan to protect teachers.

Last Tuesday, an e-mail was sent to district teachers asking them to place a request for virtual instruction. The request is not a guarantee that teachers will receive a virtual assignment, it's just meant to help the district gauge how many teachers are willing to teach online and how many teachers they'll need once parents decide how many students will be learning virtually.

A letter obtained by 10 Tampa Bay, from the president of the Pinellas County Teacher's Union, said the district will decide who gets virtual teaching spots by considering teachers with health issues verified by a doctor first and then looking at teachers with proximity to a loved one with health issues second.

One teacher from a Pinellas County middle school, who asked not to be named, told 10 Tampa Bay reporter Thuy Lan Nguyen that she felt that she wasn't ready to make her choice within a week's time. 

"I feel trapped in a way, like why are they putting us in this spot? This is something that's being rushed...if we could just start the first part of school online, that would make me feel better. I'm immunocompromised and my rheumatologist said if I go back and get COVID-19...I could die. I feel like the choice is money, or my life," she said.

That teacher is considering taking a leave of absence in an effort to maintain her health. She says she hasn't seen the masks or face shields the district has promised. She also says the school buildings themselves aren't ready for students to return. She was in her room last week laminating papers to get ready for the start of in-person classes and she noticed the water fountains were taped off, but new bottle refill stations had not been brought in yet.

In addition to requesting a virtual teaching assignment, teachers and staff must submit a form requesting resignation, retirement or a leave of absence by Monday at 5 p.m. The Pinellas middle school teacher says the one week teachers were given is not enough time, because teachers have only seen measures outlined to protect students and not the staff responsible for keeping them safe.

The Pinellas County School district provided this statement:

"We are in the process of collecting information from all instructional staff in regards to their requests for possible alternative assignments. Each position and situation will need to be addressed specifically to their duties and the availability of alternative assignments. Our instructional staff has been asked to submit their alternative assignment request by 5pm, Monday July 27...same deadline as the one given to our families to choose a Learning Option for their student(s)."

The school board meets again to discuss reopening plans on July 28 at 5 p.m

RELATED: Doctors: Decisions about kids returning to school could have lifelong consequences

RELATED: How well do some Tampa Bay area schools reopening plans line up with CDC guidelines?

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