JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County teacher Stacie Dern is mentally preparing to return to her classroom full of students for the new school year. This time around — with a pandemic that’s hospitalized hundreds in Jacksonville — she’s far more uncertain of what’s to come.
“I am living in my little bubble of trying to convince myself that going back to school is safe because I can’t go in my classroom and be afraid of my kids. That is not going to be effective,” said Dern. “I don’t want to get COVID. I don’t want to bring it home to my family.”
The Landmark Middle School teacher said she meets the qualifications to get priority placement for the virtual distance learning program, Duval HomeRoom. The virtual program would mean she still has to report to a school, but instead of students in her classroom, she would be broadcasting live to students at home.
“So, I might have five students from Landmark, five students from Matthew Gilbert, five from Lakeshore all learning from me, and when they go back to school they go back to their home school,” said Dern.
For weeks, teachers hesitant about returning to a physical classroom to teach students in person have requested the district give priority placement in Duval HomeRoom and Duval Virtual Instruction Academy to teachers who are at risk or living with loved ones who are at risk of getting sick from COVID. Some teachers also suggested all students return to school in a 100% virtual setting.
In a school board meeting Thursday, Duval Superintendent Diana Greene said the district is in fact in need of more teachers to apply for positions in Duval HomeRoom.
“And right now, it’s a little over 330 teachers. If you’re looking at our numbers of 15,000. We need more than 330 teachers to support that, that volume. So, if teachers have underlying medical conditions and have not applied, we need them to apply,” said Greene on Thursday.
Friday, district officials shared that so far 16,517 students have signed up for Duval HomeRoom. The number accounts for close to 12% of the overall student population of 139,000.
The problem for Dern and many teachers, she said, is that her spot at the school she’s grown to love may not be open when she returns back to a brick-and-mortar school.
“It’s us worried about us literally losing our job,” she said. “It may seem petty but you have been working at this same business with these same people for 10 years and now somebody says if you sign up for this we may send you across town.”
Dern and other teachers are talking about a memorandum of agreement sent on July 13 explaining the requirements and worksite conditions for Duval HomeRoom.
The document states priority placement will go to teachers with three years of teaching experience and those who completed technology training. It also says if a teacher’s home school is not available when they need to return to the classroom, the teacher will be transferred to an existing vacancy at another school.
“I’m walking the fence right there because I look out and I see my family and I see the numbers and I know it’s not an if but when. I know we are going to have to shut down. I know eventually, all the schools in Duval County are going to have to shut down because once we put the kids back in the classroom it’s going to start spreading,” said Dern.