Florida must focus on students’ progress after disruptive year, teachers union says

Friday marks one year since Florida’s schools were shuttered due to COVID-19 pandemic

It has been one year since Florida’s schools were shuttered due to COVID-19 pandemic.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a news conference Friday, Florida’s largest teachers union marked one year since the state’s school buildings were emptied in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said addressing the academic and emotional shortfall for students should be the state’s top priority as public schools move closer to a return to pre-pandemic operations.

“We have to recognize that, although our teachers and staff in our schools have done amazing work, it’s not been without disruption,” Spar said. “Kids have been quarantined, teachers have been quarantined, staff has been quarantined, and that has created disruption.”

“The big thing now is focusing on, how to we build and make sure that kids are getting everything that they need? That they may have struggled with this year because of those disruptions.”

Spar said the work to make up for learning loss must begin as early as this summer as the COVID-19 vaccine is administered to Floridians, utilizing a combination of summer programs, camps and classes.

“Even when we get back to that sense of normal, our teachers and staff know we have a lot of work to do to address the needs of our students, both emotionally and academically,” Spar said.

The FEA also recognized the shortage of teachers and other educational employees, which it described as “the biggest crisis we face” moving forward. Spar said the teacher shortage has been a problem for years and the pandemic only made it worse.

Since it first arrived in Florida, the novel coronavirus has infected 80,682 students and staff associated with a school district, according to the FEA’s Safe Schools report. Overall, 146,793 kids in Florida who are school-aged (K-12) have tested positive for the virus since schools first reopened Aug. 10.

The pandemic has claimed the lives of 40 Florida educators and nine school-aged children since schools reopened.