Group looks to craft recommendations for return to classrooms

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After repeatedly calling on the state to convene a task force to look at reopening schools, the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has convened its own.

The 25-member task force will convene three times in the coming weeks. Its first meeting was held Thursday.

The group’s goal is to include the voices of teachers, staff members and school administrators in the reopening conversation.

“They are going to be the ones dealing with the day to day, minute to minute issues in a school brick and mortar building,” said FEA Secretary-Treasurer Carole Gauronskas.

The task force will focus on a wide variety of reopening topics including physical and mental health, student success, working conditions and financial investment in schools.

“We know that there’s going to be a financial hit when in all honesty we’re going to need more money to separate these classes to make them smaller," said Gauronskas. “We’re going to need more intervention, mental health psychologists. We’re going to have to have more people driving more buses or supporting students in a way we’ve never seen.”

So far, educators say they’ve gotten little to no direction on what reopening will look like from the state.

“Are we on a rotation where you can only have 50 percent of students in a classroom at one time for social distancing? Or half of classes in school and half of classes at home and you rotate them every other day or every other week?” said Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna. “We can move the needle and move things down the road a lot further once we get guidance from the governor.”

A second task force will also be looking into how to reopen universities and colleges.

Recommendations are expected to be finalized within 10 to 15 days, but there will likely be multiple variations of plans depending on how the pandemic progresses.

While the state has not convened its own task force for reopening schools, Department of Education spokeswoman Taryn Fenske disputed claims from FEA that it has been left out of reopening conversations.

“The Department of Education has been in constant communication with educators, superintendents, parents and education stakeholders throughout the entirety of the COVID-19 crisis. That is evidenced through the over 50 daily webinars with thousands of educators, dozens of memos, guidance, and conversations we’ve had, including those with the Florida Education Association. The Commissioner personally has a regular dialogue with the FEA’s President and our K-12 Division has regular dialogue with the FEA’s leadership,” Fenske said.

The Governor’s Office and Department of Education said they both will consider the recommendations FEA’s task forces produce.

You can also provide input to the groups.

During their meetings you can submit comments on Facebook or through email.

You can find a full schedule of the task force’s upcoming meetings below.

Committee on Reopening Our Neighborhood Schools

  • 10-11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, May 26 — breakout groups, discussions concentrated on defined areas
  • 10-11 a.m. EDT Friday, May 29 — full group. Register here.

Committee on Reopening Florida’s Campuses

  • 1-2 p.m. EDT Tuesday, May 26 — breakout groups, discussions concentrated on defined areas
  • 1-2 p.m. EDT Friday, May 29 — full group. Register here.