‘Relief was overwhelming,’ Seminole schools accommodate 93% of high-risk teachers

420 teachers high-risk in Seminole County, teacher's union says

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole High School English literature teacher Judith Casale spent Wednesday morning training to learn the curriculum for Seminole Virtual School, applying for the option to teach virtually knowing she is high-risk to contract coronavirus.

“I actually don’t have full lung capacity at my base, and that’s at my healthiest due to permanent lung damage so that puts me at a higher risk,” Casale said. “The reason I lost 30% of my lung capacity is because I nearly died from pneumonia, I had double pneumonia at 18.”

She says on a good day she uses her inhaler at least once. She says with her health, she was terrified at the thought of having to go back to face-to-face learning.

“My concern was if something happens to me I don’t know what happens to my family,” she said.

Casale decided to apply for the Seminole Virtual School option, hoping to be selected to teach via Seminole Connect. She said within 24 hours she was hired and approved.

"The wave of relief was overwhelming," she said. "I teared up a little bit. I jumped around the house a little bit because I felt a lot better knowing I was going to be healthy and safe and I wasn't going to compromise anyone else either."

In fact, according to Dan Smith, the president of the Seminole Education Foundation, he applauded how Seminole County Public schools were able to accommodate high-risk teachers. He said at last count there were 420 high-risk teachers and around another 250 teachers with loved ones at home who are also considered high-risk. Smith said out of that vulnerable population of educators, the district was able to accommodate 93% of their requests to teach virtually.

“93% is impressive,” Smith said. “I think that is the district meeting us."

Smith says he appreciates the district working with the union to accommodate so many concerned teachers but says there are some teachers who are in limbo.

“I still don’t know about the other 7%,” he said. “I will have a little more peace when I know that 7% has that accommodations as well.”

According to Seminole County Public School spokesperson Michael Lawrence, the demand for Seminole County Virtual School was there. With more than 10,000 students choosing Seminole County Virtual School or Seminole Virtual “save my seat” option, the district needed to hire 520 more teachers, many of them high-risk like Casale.

"I was truly terrified," Casale said. "Being as nervous as I was, I am very lucky and very happy the county was able to accommodate my needs."

As for the Seminole Connect options for teachers, Smith said the schools are still working on the schedules hoping for more clear answers on options for educators by the end of the week.

School begins in Seminole County on Aug. 17th.