Teacher union president upset quarantined teachers must return to school buildings

ABC WBPF News | by Steve King | August 17, 2020

STUART, Fla. —

The Martin County teachers union president says teachers under quarantine should not be forced to return to their school buildings to continue instruction.

Ninety students and six teachers at South Fork High School are now under quarantine after a student experienced symptoms of coronavirus. This latest exposure comes after some students at J.D. Parker Elementary School, Hobe Sound Elementary School and SeaWind Elementary School were possibly exposed to the virus, and told to quarantine. At least 150 students total are now under quarantine following these possible exposures, which have all occurred within the first week of school.

The Martin County School District released the following statement about the new exposures at South Fork High School:

“We have received inquiries about the status of the six teachers at South Fork and their status as essential workers. The teachers will continue to report to campus to livestream lessons as long as they are not experiencing any symptoms of illness. They will follow all CDC guidelines related to essential workers: temperature checks upon arrival, wearing a mask at all times and maintaining social distance from others at all times. They will livestream lessons alone in their classrooms to the students who have transitioned to remote learning, as well as the students on their other class rosters who were not part of the quarantine protocol and will still be attending school in person. These students will participate in the livestreams from the media center or auditorium under supervision by other adults on campus. The District continues to emphasize that students and employees should monitor their health on a continuous basis- if they are experiencing symptoms of illness, awaiting test results or have tested positive for COVID-19, they must stay home.”

However, the president of the Martin County Education Association, Karen Resciniti, says teachers should not have to return to school buildings, even if they are not required to instruct students in-person during their quarantine.

“I worry about my family and I worry about the families of the other teachers, students as well,” said Resciniti. “It’s not safe to go back. We said it was not safe to go back. The experts say it’s not safe to go back, yet we are back and I will be going back even though I am designated as being in quarantine.

“I think it’s horrible.

“If they are going to call me quarantined, then send me home and let me teach from home.”

The Martin County School District also sent WPBF 25 News this statement about teachers under quarantine returning to the school buildings for instruction:

“All District employees are considered essential according to the guidelines issued by Governor DeSantis in Executive Order 20-91. In accordance with CDC guidelines for essential workers, essential employees may be asked to report to work to maintain staffing for critical services as long as they are not experiencing any symptoms of illness. Education of students is considered an essential service by the Governor.

“If they are continuing to report to work because they are not ill, they would have their temperature checked upon arrival, keep a mask on each day and remain socially distanced at all times. They would continue to stream lessons to their students at home alone in their classroom. If at any time they began experiencing symptoms, they would not report to work. Employees will never be asked to report to work if they are exhibiting symptoms, waiting on test results or have tested positive for COVID-19. All district employees are eligible for free COVID-19 testing with 24-hour results through our partnership with Cleveland Clinic Martin Health.”

School District leaders say they are using this excerpt from Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 20-91 when making the decision to have teachers return to school buildings while they are under quarantine:

  1. All of Education Technology – listed under Information technology on the list.
  2. All of Finance/Payroll
  3. All of HR and Risk also Workers who manage health plans, billing, and health information, who cannot practically work remotely.
  4. All of Maintenance, facilities and custodial services
  5. All of Food Service
  6. All Educators including ESE, Chiefs, Directors, Principals, AP’s and school site administration employees supporting public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing other essential functions.
  7. Public Info and Affairs office
  8. Safety and security office
  9. School Nurse

Quarantine for essential workers is as follows:

If an essential worker is a close contact on the ‘contact list’ and they need to continue to work to help with the needs of the school site to provide services, they are an essential worker. They must have health checks on arrival, wear a mask at all times and social distance and can work as long as they remain symptom free. They must immediately report if they have any of the symptoms of COVID-19 and not come to work. When not at work, they must be instructed to quarantine at home for 14 days from last contact with the positive case. They cannot go anywhere else but to work and then home. If they are not an essential worker, they quarantine at home.”

Resciniti says the school district is “loosely interpreting” the governor’s executive order and teachers should not be considered essential.

She also says the number of exposures and possible exposures in Martin County Schools so far this school year is an example of why the Florida Education Association is suing Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran over the state’s executive order to reopen schools for in-person instruction.

“The state legislators need to leave schools to the local school boards, that’s the first thing. They need to let the school boards make decisions without fear of retaliation and lack of funding, because that’s exactly what they did, If you don’t open up your schools you’re going to lose state funding. They need to stay out of it. Let the educators do the educating and let them do whatever it is that they do. In my opinion, the governor’s decision was nothing short of reckless endangerment,” said Resciniti.

“These schools should be closed down. They should be closed down, the kids should be monitored, the kids should be tested, the teachers should be tested, parents should be tested, this is what’s going to set a super-spreader event and it will be in Martin County.

“We love being with our students but we want it to be safe and it is not safe right now, clearly.

“We want each school district to be able to open based on their numbers and our numbers in Martin County clearly show that we should not be going back face-to-face.

“I’m extremely anxious and fearful that I’m going to get sick or I’m going to get somebody else sick, I think that’s how most teachers feel. So, here I am, I’m quarantined, and I have three people at my house. It’s not a good situation.”

Resciniti also says she is disappointed the school district and teachers union was unable to strike a deal to push back the school year start date.

“I think the school district worked very hard, however, we didn’t have enough time. We needed more time and all I want is for my students and my colleagues to be safe. I just hope everybody gets through this safely,” said Resciniti.

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