CTA Prevails in Lawsuit Against District - OCPS Puts out "News You Can't Use" Real Facts!

August 17, 2020

Press release

At the request of OCCTA, Count II of the Complaint (which seeks the safe reopening of brick-and-mortar schools in Orange County) has been stayed pending the disposition of the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the State’s Emergency Order that mandates the physical reopening of schools amid uncontrolled community spread of COVID-19. That case is scheduled to be heard later this week.

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REAL FACTS!

OCPS put out “Facts For Teachers” through an August 12, 2020 “News You Can Use” message.  We want to share some truly real facts for teachers.

FACT – What Do Medical Experts and Scientists Say About Reopening?

Although this fact was not even included in the OCPS “Facts for Teachers” message, OCCTA believes this should be the number one consideration in making a decision on when to reopen schools. 

On July 29, 2020, the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FCAAP) released “

FCAAP Recommendations Regarding School Reopening

”, a white paper intended to guide Florida’s school superintendents as they prepare their school districts to reopen. They stated, “This guidance is pursuant to FCAAP’s 

recent letter to Governor DeSantis, outlining its position that schools should be allowed to decide how and when to open on a case-by-case basis based on COVID-19 infection rates in each school district.”

Much of what is written in the FCAAP white paper mirrors what the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association and our affiliates FEA, AFT and NEA have repeatedly stressed -  it will not be safe to return until the positivity rate is under 5% and there is a consecutive 14-day decline in COVID-19 cases.

Additionally, the academy laid out specifics on screening, social distancing, PPE and other sanitation procedures, considerations for vulnerable demographics, the role of school nurses, school sports and returning to school after a potential COVID-19 exposure.  The FCAAP recommended 6-foot social distancing guidelines, not 3-foot (or less) which OCPS leaders consider acceptable.

A contributor to this white paper is Michael Muszynski, MD, FAAP—Pediatric Infectious Diseases who sits on the OCPS School Board’s Medical Advisory Committee.

At the August 12, 2020 OCPS Medical Advisory Committee meeting, Dr. Muszynski was adamant about keeping schools closed for face-to- face instruction until it was safe to reopen. He discussed the fact that the governor and president had no mask mandate which guaranteed “it [COVID-19] will percolate along.”  He also stated that it was difficult “to put children together for six hours a day to see what the hell happens." He emphasized that science parameters are real and cited the example of New Zealand that had quality contact tracing and testing programs. He said, “We are stuck deciding what children we should put at risk” and 9-19 year olds spread to each other and to adults. He said if made to choose, he would reopen for special needs students only.

What do other experts say?

  • Harry Heimana clinical associate professor of health policy and behavioral sciences at Georgia State University said, “Even if children are less likely to get seriously sick, every child that I know lives in a home with an adult. The idea that you can safely reopen schools and not in fact worsen spread is not based on science. It’s based on wishful thinking.”

  • Sanjay Gupta – Why I am not sending my kids back to school.

    He said, “It is also important to remember that a school community is made up of more than just young students. According to one recent analysis,
    nearly a quarter of teachers working in the United States school system are at higher risk of serious illness from Covid-19, either because of age or pre-existing conditions. I was particularly struck by the stories of worried teachers around the country who said they were writing out their wills in anticipation of returning to school.
  • Dr. Fauci stated:

    "There may be some areas where the level of virus is so high that it would not be prudent to bring the children back to school. So you can't make one statement about bringing children back to school in this country, it depends on where you are."
  • Dr. Birx stated, 

    “If you have high caseload and active community spread … we are asking people to distance learn at this moment, so we can get this epidemic under control.”
  • UF researchers

    said that COVID-19 is airborne up to 16 feet.
  • COVID-19 cases of children increased 137% in Florida

    in last month.

FACT – What other Florida school districts are doing?

OCPS said, “Hillsborough County decided last week to have their first four weeks of instruction online. As suspected, the Florida Department of Education stated this did not comply with the Emergency Order requiring brick and mortar schools to be open in August. It has been confirmed that such failure to comply with the Emergency Order will negatively impact their funding.”

The Hillsborough School Board and District leaders took a stand to do what they believed was necessary to preserve the health and welfare of students and employees. Other school districts are not reopening in August for face-to-face instruction, including Miami and Broward. Their plans were accepted by the FLDOE and you can read all of the district plans at this link.

OCPS could open schools brick and mortar for special needs students and others who require individual accommodations to be provided in very strict compliance to CDC guidelines and the FCAAP guidelines. The state has mandated that VPK meet for face-to-face instruction. OCPS has an obligation to split these classes so the recommended guidelines can be followed as far as masks, PPE and social distancing. 

FACT – Protocol for COVID-19 cases

OCCTA filed a lawsuit against the Orange County Public Schools regarding the School District’s failure to keep students, staff, and the community safe during this COVID-19 pandemic, and their refusal to be transparent and turn over public records OCCTA has asked for on behalf of educators and children regarding the safety of the OCPS community. This includes a list of schools and worksites with COVID-19 outbreaks and what is being done to sanitize those worksites and keep students, teachers and all employees safe. The community is entitled to information to make informed and fact-based decisions. 

FACT – Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The District stated, “Personal protective equipment (PPE) will be provided to teachers, including face shields and masks. Gloves and gowns will also be provided for certain ESE classrooms. The school board will adopt an emergency policy regarding face coverings Aug. 11. Students will be required to wear face coverings with very limited exceptions. (Manual section 1). Additionally, OCPS has established a standard protocol for protective equipment. Schools and classrooms should not deviate from this protocol by providing desk dividers or other customizations.”

OCCTA is hearing from many teachers that PPE is not being provided or that inadequate supplies have been provided. Some have no hand sanitizer, some have no disinfectant wipes, some were given only five masks.

At the August 6, 2020 bargaining session OCCTA gave input on the manual. We also asked for clarification on sixty points in the manual, including masks and PPE. The manual was created without any input from OCCTA or teachers, and apparently with no real input from medical experts. 

We specifically asked for medical grade masks for teachers, such as N95 masks, since the District announced there would be exceptions for students not having to comply with the mask order.

We are encouraged by the OCPS School Board’s Medical Advisory Committee recommendations, including that students and employees be provided three or more masks a day because they get dirty and wet from wear. They also stated that there is no medical reason for not wearing a mask and the only students who could be “exempt” would be autistic or other special needs students. Dr. Nielsen expressed if all students did not wear masks, teachers, staff and other students would be at risk. The panel members also stated those not complying or unable to keep masks on should be made to take distance learning.  OCCTA agrees.

The committee members discussed many of the mask issues that OCCTA had asked the District about and submitted in writing to the District on August 6, 2020, based on the COVID-19 Policy and Procedures Manual. We asked if teachers who were medically at-risk or had family members that were medically at-risk would have to teach face-to-face in classes where there were “medically exempt” students who did not have to wear masks to protect their own safety and health. We asked where would “mask breaks” take place, who would supervise them and if, and how, social distancing would be observed. We asked about the grade and brands of the masks being provided and how many would be provided for teachers.

OCCTA also made clear that gloves and gowns should be provided to those teachers that request them.

It is concerning that the District stated, “Additionally, OCPS has established a standard protocol for protective equipment. Schools and classrooms should not deviate from this protocol by providing desk dividers or other customizations.”  Why would the District not want teachers or administrators to equip classrooms with desk protectors as has been the norm in other Florida school districts? At the August 6, 2020 bargaining meeting OCCTA requested that desks and tables in classrooms that had face-to-face instruction be equipped with dividers/shields.  From OCCTA’s proposal:

“In accordance with CDC guidelines, the District will “install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart.”

The District is also not adhering to recommended social distancing guidelines of 6-foot distancing, and admitted it will make exceptions in classrooms (even those that are small, windowless and not properly ventilated) to seat students for face-to-face instruction. At the School Board’s Medical Advisory Meeting on August 12, 2020 the superintendent stated that the language “where feasible” came from the state. This is the state that ordered schools to recklessly reopen in the middle of a pandemic with no regard to health or wellness.

By contract, you have the right to safe working conditions:

ARTICLE VI Working Conditions

K. The Board agrees to maintain safe and healthful working conditions, including the provision of safety equipment.

The District shall investigate complaints of harmful indoor air quality and take measures to reasonably accommodate employees if necessary.

No employee shall be disciplined for refusal to work in an unsafe or hazardous situation where there is an eminent danger to the employee’s health, safety or well-being, provided that this shall not be applicable in any circumstances where the health and safety of students otherwise clearly require employee intervention.

If you are an OCCTA member and you believe that your working conditions are unsafe please contact OCCTA at orangecta@gmail.com so we can file a grievance on your behalf.

FACT Face-to-Face instruction

The District stated, “About one-third of our students are signed up for face-to-face instruction, currently scheduled to begin Friday, Aug. 21. Another 17% of teachers want to use their classroom to deliver LaunchEd@Home to their students. In some of these instances, those teachers may have a number of face-to-face students in their classroom.”

From OCCTA’s bargaining proposal:

“Teachers will not be required to perform both on-campus face-to-face and distance learning LaunchED@Home simultaneously. The parties will negotiate a process to determine teacher assignment of on-campus face-to-face or distance learning LaunchED@Home that allows for teacher choice where feasible; and teachers who are at increased and/or high-risk for serious complications from COVID-19, as established by the CDC, or are caring for increased and/or high-risk household members will be considered first for available distance learning LaunchED@Home positions at their worksite.” 

LAUNCHED

The District stated, “All of our options are driven by parent choice and student registrations. ESE staff members that provide services for specialized areas (Speech/Language, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Vision, Deaf/Hard of Hearing) will review student IEP goals with parents and determine which services can be done remotely.” 

During a regular school year if a course is full or if a teacher is not available, that course is not available for the student/s. Yet, during this crisis, the District feels compelled to meet every choice for every student, even if it means a teacher with underlying health issues will have to teach it face-to-face.

FACT –Teaching Assignments

The District stated, “While about 30% of our teachers indicated a preference for face-to-face instruction, administrators are challenged with matching teacher assignment preferences to student registrations. These efforts will continue over the coming days, and there may be opportunities for teachers to voluntarily transfer to accommodate some preferences. Keep in mind, we have agreed to first try to allocate work-from-home assignments to those teachers with approved medical accommodations or 65 or older. Individuals who cannot be accommodated are provided information regarding other options. (FAQ)”

The District gave parents a choice for the three options; they gave teachers a preference. Many OCPS teachers are parents and selected LaunchEd as the selection for their children for themselves. However, many are now being told that their “preference” for LaunchEd cannot be honored because they are needed to go into a classroom to teach LaunchEd for some face-to-face students. The District unilaterally decides whose preference is honored, whose is changed and why. OCCTA has heard from teachers who applied for and received ADA accommodations because they or a family member that they care for has health issues and are at greater risk if they contact COVID-19, being told that they must transfer to another school, resign or take leave to avoid going face-to-face.

OCCTA has learned that one principal has directed that every teacher be in the classroom whether they have students or not.

Again, if you are an OCCTA member and you believe that your working conditions are unsafe please contact OCCTA at orangecta@gmail.com so we can file a grievance on your behalf.

FACT – Cleaning of Schools

The District stated, “Hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes will be provided for teachers. When students begin attending for face-to-face instruction, August 21, more extensive cleaning protocols will be in place. Common areas will be cleaned throughout the day. Secondary school classrooms cannot be cleaned during the brief class change periods but cleaning supplies will be available. Per contract, we cannot require teachers to clean surfaces during those breaks but voluntary cleaning by staff or students is allowed.”

OCCTA asks, “When will hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes be provided for teachers?” We are hearing from numerous teachers that they do not have these supplies. What supplies will be provided on August 21? Can we really trust that they will be? During the summer the District claimed that they would provide PPE and plexi-glass barriers for the 11-month psychologists. They were given an inferior barrier that could not be used and had to wait to work with students until the correct ones were delivered.

OCCTA asked the District to explain the cleaning procedures and how many times restrooms, classrooms will be cleaned during the day. We are waiting for a response.

OCCTA is concerned with this statement: “Secondary school classrooms cannot be cleaned during the brief class change periods but cleaning supplies will be available. Per contract, we cannot require teachers to clean surfaces during those breaks but voluntary cleaning by staff or students is allowed.”

The District is suggesting that our contract be violated because they will not provide the needed personnel to clean classrooms between classes. “Voluntary” with the District usually means “voluntold”.  Teachers have to prepare for the next class between classes. They do not have time to properly clean and sanitize.  The District could modify bell schedules to allow for more time so someone can come in and clean. Will teachers be reprimanded if they cannot clean between class periods and a student contracts COVID-19?  Please follow the contract.  If the District cannot guarantee that classrooms will be cleaned between classes, then classrooms will not be safe. The following contract language applies:

CLEANING DUTIES

Please follow the contract language, which states:

Article VI Working Conditions

Q. An employee shall not be required to perform the following duties:

  1. Clean instructional or work areas, such as bathrooms, floors, windows, or sinks on a daily or periodic basis.

ARTICLE VI Working Conditions

K. The Board agrees to maintain safe and healthful working conditions, including the provision of safety equipment.

The District shall investigate complaints of harmful indoor air quality and take measures to reasonably accommodate employees if necessary.

No employee shall be disciplined for refusal to work in an unsafe or hazardous situation where there is an eminent danger to the employee’s health, safety or well-being, provided that this shall not be applicable in any circumstances where the health and safety of students otherwise clearly require employee intervention.

If you are an OCCTA member and you believe that your working conditions are unsafe please contact OCCTA at orangecta@gmail.com so we can file a grievance on your behalf.

FACT

Duty-Free Lunch

The District did not mention this issue, but OCCTA is hearing that teachers who opted for face-to-face are being told that they will eat lunch in their classrooms or be called on to supervise lunches. Teachers do not have to eat lunch in their classrooms with their students.  It poses several problems that we brought up at bargaining. First, teachers have a duty free lunch of 25 minutes. Second, if you are in a confined space with students who have removed their masks, you are at a serious risk for contracting COVID-19 if a student is infected. The exceptions cited in this contract would not apply, including field trips and an unplanned emergency. Clearly, the District has had ample time to plan for a duty-free lunch for every teacher.

ARTICLE VI Working Conditions

V. Each school shall provide:

1.Appropriate space for use as a non-student employee lounge.

2. A room or private area for exclusive use by non-students during the duty-free lunchtime.

ARTICLE XIV DUTY DAY

A. Except as otherwise provided in this Contract, the employee duty day shall be seven hours and 30 minutes including a duty-free lunch, or 37 ½ hours per week  total.

M. Employees shall be scheduled for a minimum of 25 minutes for lunch, which shall be within the scheduled lunch periods for students except on field trips on in unplanned emergencies. On student contact days, in work locations where there is no lunchroom orin job assignments which permit flexible lunch schedules, an employee may be given approximately one hour for lunch by mutual agreement with his/her administrator.  In such cases, the workday for the employee may be proportionately extended to provide for equity with other employees, without violating this Contract. On any non-student contact day, employees shall have a lunch period of one hour which may be off site.

N. An employee may leave the work site, upon receiving permission, during his /her planning time and duty-free lunch.  No reasonable request shall be denied.

If you are an OCCTA member and you believe that your working conditions are unsafe please contact OCCTA at orangecta@gmail.com so we can file a grievance on your behalf.

FACT – COVID-19 Testing

The district stated, “Testing cannot be mandatory for students before they return to school.

The DOH has indicated they want to make free testing available for children but they must build capacity. We will encourage parents to take advantage of testing. Employees are also encouraged to take advantage of testing opportunities.”

OCCTA’s position is that the recommendations of the CDC and those outlined in the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FCAAP) released “

FCAAP Recommendations Regarding School Reopening

” in their chart “COVID-19 When a Student, Faculty or Staff Member Can Return to School” must be explicitly followed. Testing must be made mandatory and is necessary to protect the health and safety of others. If a parent refuses to test their child, then he/should be assigned to a distance program.

FACT – Impasse

The District stated, “Last week CTA declared impasse on impact bargaining matters. While this means the parties may have a hearing in front of a neutral third-party special magistrate, the district is not required to delay decisions regarding reopening of schools, face-to-face, August 21 for families who have made that selection. Many of the matters upon which CTA declared impasse conflict with FLDOE requirements (i.e., opening school) or are appropriately addressed in the COVID-19 Health and Safety Manual, management direction or board policy (i.e., face coverings).”

On August 6, 2020, OCCTA declared impasse after reaching a deadlock with the Orange County Public Schools (“OCPS”) regarding the District’s unsafe re-opening plan. The OCPS proposed plan threatens the health and lives of the over 14,000 educators represented by OCCTA, their students, their families, and the community at large.

Teachers want to return to on-site instruction more than anyone. However, we must re-open brick-and-mortar safely. In the middle of the uncontrolled community spread of COVID-19 in Orange County, the District is forcing thousands of teachers to engage in face-to-face instruction while refusing to listen to the advice and guidance of health experts across the state and the nation.

The District has rejected the implementation of all CDC recommendations proposed by the Union.

Instead, the District ambiguously proposed to rely on the recommendations of local health officials and “industry guidance”—without any commitment to follow even those recommendations and without the ability to answer what it would do if those recommendations conflict with each other or with the CDC and other national health authorities.

Further, other than vaguely stating that Dr. Raul Pino, Interim Director of the FL DOH in Orange County, spoke at two Board meetings, the District is unable to confirm affirmative assurance from any health expert that it is safe to open brick-and-mortar schools on August 21 or that it is safe to ignore the guidance of the CDC.

The District has failed to meaningfully engage with stakeholders including educators, parents, and health experts. The District has failed to be transparent and turn over public records OCCTA has asked for on behalf of students and educators regarding the safety of the OCPS community. The District has failed to bargain in good faith. The District has failed to listen to the science. The District has failed its students and educators.

With students scheduled to return to in-person instruction in just one week, there is no time to allow the District to continue to stall at the bargaining table. The Union was left with no choice but to declare impasse to get these serious disputes resolved before it’s too late.

OCCTA and the thousands of teachers it represents implore the School Board to act with urgency to protect the lives of our students, educators and community.

FACT – Who to Contact with questions or concerns

The District stated, “Please discuss any questions or concerns with your principal or area superintendent, or use the 

Labor Relations Employee Digital Hotline.”

If you are an OCCTA member and you believe that your working conditions are unsafe please contact OCCTA at orangecta@gmail.com so we can file a grievance on your behalf.