Florida teacher resigns as schools begin reopening

Jennifer Beebe taught at Neptune Beach Elementary School for 23 years

Jennifer Beebe taught at Neptune Beach Elementary School for 23 years

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville-area teacher at quit her job Wednesday when her hopes of her school reopening to virtual learning didn’t happen.

Jennifer Beebe said she has taught at Neptune Beach Elementary School since 2004 and loves the school. She said her decision to leave is a painful one, but that it was necessary.

“It was a very hard, tearful, shaky decision,” Beebe said. “But I know that I’m doing the right thing.”

Beebe said she hopes her leaving will encourage other teachers to make decisions that are best for their own families. She said virtual learning seemed like an obvious choice to her and her colleagues to start the school year.

“I kept hoping that we would go virtual. That we would have, you know, common sense. We would come to some sense. But that didn’t happen,” she said.

When the state of Florida required schools to reopen buildings to students, Beebe said she couldn’t go along with it.

“It’s sad. I am angry,” she said. “I don’t feel like we’ve had the leadership that would give us what we needed all along to do this. So, you know, it’s a heartfelt and very sad goodbye.”

When the FEA, the largest teachers union in the state, sued to stop the opening of brick and mortar schools, Beebe said her hopes were dashed to learn a decision won’t likely come until after the start of school.

She smile when asked what she’ll miss most.

“I just love those kids. They are my life,” Beebe said. “They give me joy every single day. What they say, what they do. The funny things that they do. Laughs. You just can’t replace it. There’s nothing that’s going to replace a class of children. Unfortunately, right now, a class of children is not a safe place to be.”

As schools begin to reopen, surveys show that teachers across the state are deciding to resign, retire early or take a leave of absence rather than return to campus this month.

In a July survey, 52 educators in Pasco County, or roughly 1 percent of respondents, said that they would either resign or take a leave of absence if asked to come back, according to school district spokesman Stephen Hegarty.

Fourteen Pinellas County school employees resigned before the start of the school year and 47 have requested a leave of absence, Associate Superintendent of Human Resource Services Paula Texel said at a school board meeting Tuesday.

In rural Jackson County, eight teachers have said they would take a leave of absence, two said they would resign and two others said they would retire early, said Galloway, who serves as the president of the Jackson County Education Association. The vast majority of teachers, however, are coming back to school, Superintendent Larry Moore said in an interview Tuesday.

A mid-July survey conducted by the Florida Education Association found that 18,082 educators said the pandemic has “made them more likely to retire or leave education earlier than planned.” But it is unclear how many of them have acted on that sentiment.

The FEA conducted the survey prior to filing a lawsuit challenging a July 6 emergency order issued by Corcoran that requires schools to reopen in August, unless state and local health officials say otherwise.

Lawyers representing DeSantis and Corcoran have asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the order doesn’t require school districts to remain shuttered. But the FEA’s lawyers argue that schools risk losing funding if they don’t comply with the mandate. Teachers “have rushed resignations and retirements, even with retirement penalties” to avoid returning to campus in August, the union’s lawyers wrote in a response to the state’s motion to dismiss the case.

A Tallahassee judge is slated to hold a hearing in the case Thursday morning.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story

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