ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Days after a magistrate issued a ruling on an impasse between Orange County Public Schools and a teachers union that’s pushing for more protection for teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, union officials say they’re still waiting on a response from the school district regarding the magistrate’s recommendations.
The Orange County Classroom Teachers Association said on Friday that it is pleased with the magistrate’s recommendations but one week after they were issued, union officials are still waiting to hear from the district.
“A special magistrate has issued a judicious decision that protects teachers and students during this deadly pandemic,” union officials said in a release. “OCCTA accepts all of the magistrate’s recommendations and has urged the District to do the same. A week later—as COVID-19 numbers continue to climb—the District remains silent as to whether it will accept the wisdom of this neutral decisionmaker.”
The union is doubling down on its call for action as cases reported within the Orange County school district continue to climb and the novel coronavirus makes a resurgence nationwide.
As of Friday morning, Orange County Public School’s COVID-19 dashboard showed a total of 1,119 confirmed cases of the virus since Aug. 21. More than 380 of those infections were in employees, the dashboard showed. Currently, 93 Orange County Public Schools are quarantining. The dashboard is refreshed each night at 11:59 p.m., according to the page.
According to the union, the magistrate’s decision includes the following recommendations for employee health and safety standards during the ongoing pandemic that the union had previously rejected:
- Requires the District to listen to the experts, including the CDC, when it comes to all school safety issues relating to the pandemic, and expressly includes CDC guidelines regarding when it is safe to be around others after coming into contact with the virus, routine cleaning and disinfection of schools, face coverings, physical distancing, and other areas.
- Incorporates the District’s Health and Safety manual to promote enforceability of safety procedures, accountability, and collaboration with stakeholders.
- Requires the District to inform employees whenever an individual at their worksite contracts Covid-19.
- Requires all visitors to comply with safety protocols, including those established by the MOU.
- Allows teachers to bring air purifiers to their classroom.
- Allows teachers to find outside of employment while on leave during this school year.
- Requires the District to cover the cost of Covid-19 testing and Covid-19 associated medical costs for employees who are not yet eligible for insurance coverage with the District.
- Extends the MOU through the end of the school year
“The decision...was largely a victory for all educators and OCCTA believes that the district should share in their common goal of keeping our students and community as safe as possible,” union officials wrote in the release.
Now with the magistrate’s support of the recommendations listed above, the union is asking the district to implement the changes they feel are necessary to protect educators during the pandemic as soon as possible.
“The district now continues to delay critical issues of school safety in the middle of a deadly pandemic,” union officials wrote. “OCCTA urges the district — which had insisted on going before a magistrate and refused to expedite the process by bringing these urgent matters directly before the school board — to accept the magistrate’s much needed safety recommendations without further delay.”
News 6 reached out to the Orange County school district for comment on the magistrate’s decision and the union’s renewed call to action and received the following response:
“This is an ongoing case and as such we have no comment.”
As cases continue to rise across Florida, education officials are still working to finalize plans for safe learning options in the spring semester.
Members of the Florida Board of Education met in Tallahassee Wednesday to discuss suggestions made by school district superintendents to keep their students safe in the coming year amid the ongoing pandemic.
School districts have been waiting on guidance from the Florida Department of Education on whether they will be able to continue online education in the spring semester. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said during Wednesday’s meeting he expects a new emergency order to be issued before the Thanksgiving break detailing those learning options.
Corcoran said the Florida Department of Education plans to continue all three learning options for parents: Florida Virtual School, face-to-face learning and each district’s distance learning method.
Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, the Orange County Public Schools medical advisory committee wrote a letter asking Corcoran to consider allowing the school district to continue offering virtual learning for the rest of the school year.
Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins commended the medical advisory committee’s continued efforts to safeguard OCPS students and staff.
“The committee’s letter to Commissioner Corcoran is evidence of their continued support of safe educational choices for our families as we prepare for the second half of the school year,” Jenkins said.