Teachers across several Tampa Bay counties to protest school-reopening plans

As Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego gave the school board a thorough breakdown of the district's reopening plan, dozens of teachers and staff protested the plan.

When the district plans to reopen all schools in August, students will be enrolled in one of three options: in-person classes or one of two virtual choices.

"This is perhaps one of the most challenging and, I don't want to use the word 'unprecedented,' but the times that we're [facing], the uncertainty of things as they develop over the next several weeks, I can assure you that staff is working day and night and on weekends and every other moment to ensure that this district has that felxibility to do whatever is in the best interest of our teachers, our staff, our administrative team and our parents and students," Grego told school board members during the board's workshop.

Safety precautions for the upcoming school year include mandatory masks, social distancing within classrooms and a COVID-19 "strike team" that can respond to outbreaks in schools.

But teachers are worried for a number of reasons, including a lack of a guideline requiring the cleaning of desks and tables in between uses. Instead, teachers are going to be asked to so themselves.

As the school board and superintendent discussed the plan, teachers and staff held a demonstration outside the district's offices in Largo.

"It's a very concerning time for all educators and school staff because what kind of monsters would we be if we didn't care about the safety of our students and I think we're all entitled to a safe workplace: the students the school staff and teacher and it's just simply not safe right now," said Jill Barncord, a high school teacher in Pinellas County. "Right now I just think that we need to be looking at online learning. I just don't think we're ready for in-person. I'm happy that a lot of school districts are giving students and families choices, but teachers and school staff aren't really being given a lot of choices."

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The teachers who protested Tuesday are pushing for virtual instruction for everyone until the county has gone 14 days without a COVID-19 case and there has been a significant reduction in case numbers.

"I feel that we're pressured into doing the online learning environment if we want our children to be safe," said Heidi Thompson, a high school teacher. "The plan that I've seen in 37 pages does not fully address how to prevent and eradicate COVID-19 from our schools and ultimately our community."

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During the meeting, Grego was asked about the possibility of going completely virtual to start the school year. The superintendent said that's not possible based on the executive order issued by the Florida Department of Education last week, requiring every school to be open five days a week.

The district expects parents to be able to begin choosing how they want their kids to attend school on Wednesday. Families can choose in-person instruction; a nine-week live virtual program that includes daily live instruction with their teachers; or Pinellas Virtual School, which is a semester-long, self-paced program.