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Petition asks school board to reconsider face-to-face instruction

By Staff | Aug 17, 2020

The union representing teachers has submitted a petition asking the School District of Lee County to reconsider its decision to begin the new school year with in-person instruction.

The Aug. 11 Lee County School Board meeting included discussion of two petitions submitted to the board, including one offered by TALC President Kevin Daly who said they had collected more than 4,500 signatures.

“Earlier today I sent a petition we have online to Chair (Mary) Fisher of over 4,500 signatures that asks the board to reconsider the choice to go to any form of in-person school at the start of the school year,” he said.

Daly read from a July 28 Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics stating that the positivity rates are extremely high in Florida.

“The World Health Organization recommended that the new positive testing rate should be under 5 percent on average over 14 days before states, and hence schools, can safely open. Therefore the FCAAP recommends that school districts in counties with higher positivity rates, equal or lower than 5 percent, that do not meet the 14 day criteria, should delay the start of school until the testing rates are lower,” he said.

Daly said for many areas of the state where the coronavirus will not decrease enough in the next four to six weeks will make the benefit of school attendance out weigh the risks.

“Currently in Lee County, as of today (Aug. 11) the pediatric positivity rates is 19.8 percent. That is one out of every five children who were tested that came back positive. Overall positivity rate is 13 percent. I think it is very important to see this. Now over the past few days the numbers have come down and we have seen a downward trend,” he said. “The problem with this is the governor and the commissioner have what we believe has gone beyond their constitutional authority to coerce and extort districts into physically opening by financially penalizing those that don’t. Lee County could lose up to $50 million if we don’t open physically.”

He did thank the district for addressing concerns through the bargaining process.

“I would like to thank the top team of the district team for working on this difficult and important process. I hope everybody had a chance to watch some of the bargaining discussions and saw some of the level of expertise that each member of the team brings to the table. Everybody provided a unique perspective and advocated for all members of the bargaining team and schools. We are going to work on the contract language and documents provided with a consensus around the format to present to the members of the bargaining unit. Once that document is complete we will post and share among the bargaining unit members for ramification,” he said.

Board member Betsy Vaughn agreed with Daly.

She said although she stands behind the incredible job that staff has done with whatever is humanely possible to protect their children, sometimes that is just not enough.

“I would feel more secure if in Lee County we would have access to rapid testing, so all the children and staff members that would be participating in face-to-face are able to do that,” Vaughn said. “I do know that there has been a slight decline in the positivity rates and I credit the retail establishments for doing that. I am not afraid to say, and this is my personal belief, I agree with Mr. Daly. I feel like the school districts of this state are being held hostage.”

Many of the other board members shared comments that they supported the decision the district made in offering so many options, which includes face-to-face instruction.

Board member Chris Patricca said she met with the union groups and asked “Why would you deny the opportunity for families to go back to physical face-to-face instruction if that is what they want?”

She said Daly said that was a good question that he could not answer.

“I really believe what we are doing here in Lee County is that we are providing options and parents can choose the option that works best for them,” she said.

Patricca said to deny parents the option that either need to send their kids to school, or who generally want to physically be back in the building, or for teachers and staff to physically be back in the building is irresponsible.

“Mr. Daly mentioned that we were being coerced and extorted by the Department of Education and the governor. I do not feel coerced or extorted. I feel that they have given us flexibility and funding to provide a virtual option for kids. Without that flexibility and funding we would not have gotten full funding to allow for virtual education for the kids and teachers. I think we agreed to disagreed in the end,” Patricca said.

Board Member Debbie Jordan said she had the same conversation with the union group.

“I want to make sure we are protecting all of our assets, which are our families and children,” she said.

Board Chair Mary Fischer said she has grandkids and great grandkids who attend schools in Lee County with four of the five going to face-to-face once schools reopen. The other will be attending Lee Home Connect.

“We have become the surrogate parents. We spend more time with the kids than their own families do. Parents are confident that we will do everything we can like we always do to take care of their children,” she said. “With the choices that we have, we can’t deny people that opportunity when they don’t have another choice, but to send their children to school. I think we need to stick with our plan at this time.”

Fischer said they had 15,000 elementary students at six different schools that involved more than 300 teachers and other staff for summer school. She said there was not one incidence of any illness.

“Those are encouraging (numbers.) Kids are resilient. They will follow the rules and keep their masks on. We cannot stop life. We must accommodate everyone’s needs and there are a lot of needs in this community,” Fischer said.

Board member Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan said she believes the district has a good plan, a responsible plan.

“It’s responsive to the need of students and parents and based on the numbers of students and families signed up and staff returning there is a high level of confidence of the community that the district is doing everything possible,” to keep staff and students safe, Morgan said. “I appreciate the terror and the frustration that many people feel of this process. What the district leadership has done is what is best for families in Lee County.”

Vaughn said there is another petition generating from parents of kindergarten students. She said the parents are really upset and are requesting to walk their child into the classroom on the first day.

“This is a huge milestone and probably more traumatic for the moms that it is for the kids,” she said.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said they do recognize that kindergarten can be a pretty difficult time for parents dropping off their child at the school house. He said what they are doing to help alleviate those concerns is an in-person open house for kindergarten students.

At the open house, parents will have an opportunity to walk their student to class and meet the teacher, as well as practice being dropped off by the bus, or by their parent.

“We want to also ensure the board that the schools will provide flexibility if a parent is not able to make an appointment time with the open house,” he said.

Parents will be afforded with the opportunity to schedule a time during the preschool opening time to make that connection.

He said they are trying to really knock down the numbers of people coming into the building, so contact tracing can be easier to accomplish if a COVID-19 case arose.