ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – With two young children, it never occurred to Andrea Clark that she might need to create a will.
But last week, as she prepares to return to the classroom in St. Johns County amid the spike of COVID-19 cases, Clark and her husband made the decision to create the legal document in preparation for the worst-case scenario.
“My husband and I both work and we came to the realization that if I catch it I might transmit it to him, to my children, and if one of us dies because of COVID-19 we need to have our plans written down and you know legally sound for our children,” said Clark, a fifth-grade math and science teacher.
Clark brought her concerns to the St. Johns County School Board on Tuesday during public comment as the district continues to craft back-to-school plans.
“I chose to speak up because I felt at the voices of teachers should be heard and that the people who are in charge of making the decisions should know that that we take this very seriously,” she said. “There’s some of us, some of my colleagues, some of my friends who work at other schools, if they catch COVID-19, they’ll have a bad outcome and may potentially die from it because of underlying health conditions.”
After she made her comments Tuesday morning, Clark said she received messages from other teachers asking her how she created her will and how much it cost. Teachers in Texas, another COVID-19 hot spot, have also been creating wills, according to reports.
Other commenters during the board meeting Tuesday said Clark was creating unnecessary fear by implying that returning teachers and students to school is a potentially deadly decision. The vast majority of people who contract the novel coronavirus survive, some said, while others noted that just 12 people have died in St. Johns County since the pandemic began.
“I try to understand but when I go to the CDC and look at all the [death] numbers in Florida state that has 22 million people, 4,000 people have passed. I just try, I just don’t see it. And I don’t think the numbers bear out the hysteria that the board has listened to for hours,” said parent Jay Sail during public comment.
In fact, 4,409 Florida residents and 105 non-residents have died since the outbreak began, according to numbers released by the Department of Health on Tuesday. But there were 133 deaths from COVID-19 reported statewide Tuesday -- a new daily record -- and three additional COVID-19 deaths in Jacksonville, three more in Clay County and one more in Nassau County.
“I realize that only 12 people in St. Johns County have died, but that is 12 people in a go-home quarantine type situation,” Clark said. “I know that the death rates so far is very low, but what we’re going into is an unprecedented situation, children have not been back in schools.”
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran forced the hand of school districts when the Florida Department of Education issued an emergency order saying that schools need to reopen campuses five days a week in August. The St. Johns County School Board had to scrap its previous plan that would have closed all campuses under the current COVID-19 conditions.
On Tuesday, board members floated the idea of pushing back the school start date to give teachers and parents more time to prepare and make a choice on which education option they want to choose. Right now, parents have until Friday to decide.
Clark said she is planning to go with the school-based virtual option for her kindergartner and fourth-grader.
“I think the option for school-based distance learning is a fantastic option. And it gives parents, the ability to keep their students home, and keep them attached to their zone school so that the funding stays with the school and the teachers don’t lose their jobs,” she said.
She said her goal of speaking out is not to spread fear but to let the board members and community know their decisions can affect lives.
“We’re hoping for the best but it would be irresponsible for us not to prepare for the worst,” Clark said.