Teachers rallying for safer schools in Duval County march to cemetery

Demonstrators want learning to be online only until reported daily cases decline

Teachers painted messages on their cars before a motorcade.
Teachers painted messages on their cars before a motorcade. (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two groups, Duval for a Safe Return to Campus and the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team, organized a rally Tuesday for safer schools.

They feel returning back to school is a matter of life or death.

The rally started at 4 p.m. outside the Duval County Public Schools Administration Building, where teachers and activists gathered and posted messages on their cars. From there, there was a motorcade to Andrew Jackson High School. Then, teachers, activists, parents and students marched from the high school to Evergreen Cemetery, where they believe some students and teachers could end up if they go back to in-person learning.

“It’s a morbid idea, but it’s to show the reality that someone will die,” said Stephanie Szymczyk, a school counselor. “We have to get this point across. We need our governor, we need our mayor and we need our school board to understand our implications. This isn’t just a normal thing.”

Demonstrators wore red to represent education and black to represent the impending funerals they believe will happen.

When asked what his biggest fear about returning to school was, Bradley Fisher, a teacher, said: “Attending my students’ funerals, attending the funerals of my co-workers.”

The groups want local and state leaders to know that they will not be returning to campus until it’s safe., with demonstrators saying they want learning to be online only.

“We know that going back to school is going to be returning to a petri dish for the virus,” said Alex Ingram, a teacher.

They feel the following criteria should be in place to safely reopen schools before a COVID-19 vaccine is available:

  • Controlled community transmission -- at least 14 days of zero reported new community COVID-19 cases.
  • Masks added to the student code of conduct.
  • Immediate school shutdown for positive tests.

“It’s totally scary,” Chris Guerrieri, a teacher, said of returning to school. “I mean, the risks are amazing. And, you know, what? I’m 50. I’m overweight. I’ve got some underlying health conditions. But I’m in a lot better shape than a lot of teachers who are even worse shape than me, and they can be in real trouble. The thing is, we can make up for lost learning, but we can’t make up for lost lives.”

The teachers also said they’re signing documents to request that Mayor Lenny Curry become their health care surrogate.

“So if you are incapacitated through COVID-19, he has the legal authority to make health care decisions,” said Ingram, who passed out the documents. “He is making health care decisions with his inaction right now.”

When reached for comment, a city spokesperson said: “Mayor Curry does not make decisions for DCPS. It operates as a separate entity from the City of Jacksonville under the Superintendent and School Board and answers to state agencies and the Governor, not to Mayor Curry.”

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