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Lee County teachers worried reopening plan unsafe, added responsibilities too much

As coronavirus cases are rising daily in Florida, a group of teachers in The School District of Lee County are worried to reopen schools in a few weeks. They worry not only for their safety but are overwhelmed by how they are expected to handle the safety of everyone.

We spoke to concerned Lee County teachers Tuesday about what they plan to do this school year.

“As much as the teacher will try to supervise that, I really don’t think we can safely do it,” said Susan Patti, an elementary school counselor in Lee County.

Patti and other Lee County educators we spoke to have several questions they want answered.

How will the District handle COVID-19 positive students, teachers or staff?

Does the district have masks or sanitizer for all students, teachers and staff?

“We have not heard anything, nothing,” said Carolyn Staehle, a second-grade teacher in Lee County. “We don’t know if they put orders in place, if they’ve already ordered all the supplies for us. We haven’t been told a thing.”

Local educators say they’re learning everything they know from watch TV.

“Pretty much at the same rate as the public, I would say,” said Eva Ruiz, a teacher for students who are deaf and hard of hearing in Lee County.

Teachers say it’s too much responsibility for them to perform their primary roles and then also be depended upon to play doctor.

“The new hats they’re requiring us to wear are the ones that are most uncomfortable to ask,” Staehle said. “Because we’re not familiar. We’re not rehearsed in those areas.”

This group of teachers told us they were much more comfortable with the hybrid model the District wanted to offer because the district could control the number of students in the building at a time. But the Florida Department of Education’s emergency order requires Florida schools to give students the option for in-person school five days a week.

Kevin Daly, the president of the Teachers Association of Lee County, believes the current model poses too big a risk for everyone going back to school.

“I don’t think it’s, ‘OK, there’s only eight people dying, not 50 people dying,” Daly said. “It’s people are dying, and people are people, and they’re not machines. They have families, and they teach kids, and every death is a tragedy, and we need to ensure that we’re not having tragedies here in Lee County.”

Reporter:Sydney Persing
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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