Duval school district, teachers union negotiating work conditions

State School Board member says education commissioner should rescind emergency order to reopen

State School Board member says education commissioner should rescind emergency order to reopen.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As back-to-school plans for Duval County come into focus, teachers have been asking what the district plans to do if teachers contract COVID-19.

Documents obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM show what teachers in Duval County will be required to do this school year and what options they have if they are infected with the novel coronavirus.

Teachers union representatives have told News4Jax that negotiations surrounding working conditions for teachers are changing daily.

Veteran Duval County teacher Sal Castronobo said going back into a school building is too big a risk for his family.

“My age and my susceptibility. I have a school-aged child with asthma,” Castronobo said.

Castronobo said he will be applying for a position at Duval Virtual Instruction Academy.

“If I don’t get a position, I will be taking off the year in some manner,” he said. “Because I am not going to expose myself to that virus and bring it home.”

Already, 64 Duval County teachers and eight students have self-reported that they tested positive for COVID-19 since March, according to the district’s figures.

“Being in front of a great classroom teacher in that room with the interaction between those peers is absolutely the best learning environment for a student,” Corcoran said during a State Board of Education meeting in Hillsborough County on Wednesday.

State Board Member Michael Olenick said that part of the emergency order handed down last week is causing confusion in school districts and wasn’t presented to the state board before it released.

“That is what caused the confusion. And that is what causes the fear,” Olenick said. “The rest of the order and the things we are talking about make sense. What needs to be rescinded in my mind is that aspect that all schools must open.”

In Duval County, the district has unveiled a plan that doesn’t put middle and high school students back in the classroom five days a week until after the Republican National Convention happens but gives elementary the option of face-to-face instruction five days a week from the beginning of school.

The district is still negotiating with teachers but it has already hammered out agreements addressing positions that don’t require coming to the schools to teach and safety protocols teachers have to follow.

One rule requires teachers to use an app daily to pre-screen their health before coming into the building and requires teachers to stay home if they answer no to any of the pre-screening questions.

The district has also sent out different sick leave options to teachers.

One of which requires the district to pay teachers full wages, up to $5,110, if they are ordered into quarantine, advised to self-quarantine by a medical provider or experiencing symptoms while awaiting a diagnosis.

News4Jax sent questions to the district asking how the leave plan will work, but it’s still unclear if the district will add that leave to the sick leave teachers have already accrued.

“I think we should be offline, offsite for a while. My concern is transmission is still going to happen,” Castronobo said. “And people who are at risk are going to suffer grave consequences because of it. I don’t want to put myself and my family in that position.”

State School Board member says education commissioner should rescind emergency order to reopen

About the Authors:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.