Washington Post Chronicles OCPS Pandemic Woes

October 12, 2021

Washington Post columnist Lizette Alvarez wrote a column yesterday about how Florida teachers are leaving due to the pandemic and safety concerns that focused on OCPS.  (Read the Washington Post column at this link.) From July 2020 to June 2021 a total of  2,099 teachers left OCPS and from July 2021 to September 2021 another 501 teachers resigned or retired. (These figures are based on school board documents provided to the union after every school board meeting.)  

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Alvarez wrote:

“Teachers’ work is sacred. It helps shape our children’s intellect, habits and attitudes. It is also sacrificial: The hours are ridiculously long, the bureaucracy is unyielding and the pay is insultingly low — particularly in Florida. The state ranked among the lowest in teachers salaries until this year when new teachers finally got raises and has seen housing costs jump considerably. The covid-19 pandemic — which spiked to its highest level in Florida this past summer — has made the demands even more exhausting.”

Preliminary results from a Health and Safety Survey CTA is conducting shows another 497 teachers say they are considering resigning or retiring early and an additional 104 teachers said they were considering a leave of absence due to health and safety concerns.

Orange County Public School leaders have to do a better job if they want to retain and recruit quality teachers. A good start would be ending the unilateral, autocratic directives and policies, and working collaboratively with the union, parents and other stakeholders to ensure there are adequate protections to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and worksites.  OCPS rejected the proposed MOU that CTA presented at the bargaining table in July and returned it with snippy boxed messages like, “Need flexibility to respond to changes with the pandemic; limits School Board authority to pivot as changes occur.” The District is basically saying, “We do not want to bargain. We want sole control over health and safety issues.” 

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The District does not want to sign an agreement that is enforceable and teachers do not want to work during a pandemic without an enforceable agreement. The MOU presented had the same provisions that the District agreed to and signed for last school year and summer school.

University High School teacher, Gretchen Robinson outlined what it’s like to teach during a pandemic:

"I don’t think those in power appreciate the worth of what we do,” said Robinson, a 20-year education veteran who teaches at University High School. “Everybody is double- and triple-timing it. I am having stress dreams about work, about the 17 hours a day we are routinely putting in.”

Certainly, the government has only made teachers’ lives harder. Robinson said she feels whipsawed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s antediluvian approach to the covid-19 virus. Sacrifice suddenly has its limits.

Two months ago, DeSantis (R) forbade school district administrators to require masks. Now, school boards that mandate them are being fined. They cannot force covid-exposed students to quarantine. And Florida almost lost out on $2.3 billion in federal aid for schools this fall because it was the only state that chose not to apply for the third round of covid relief. After a swift and loud outcry, the DeSantis administration reversed course on Thursday."