As the number of Covid-19 cases remain high in Florida due to the Omicron variant, many are wondering whether it is appropriate for Florida schools to remain open with in-person classes, especially considering the lack of available Covid-19 testing provided by the federal government.
Unfortunately, those in power ultimately decide what is and isn’t appropriate for schools. That being said, Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar has stated he believes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when he says that schools will, without a doubt, remain open with no vaccine or mask requirements.
As a result, Florida schools are also currently suffering from a massive teacher shortage due to a lack of respect and salary increases, according to the president of Pinellas County’s teachers’ union.
Nancy Velardi, President of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, elaborated, saying many are attracted to the teaching profession when they see their starting salary. However, they get tempted to leave once they realize their salary has been unchanged for years.
While the lack of salary increases is bad enough, it is made even worse considering Florida’s average salary for teachers is considerably lower than other states. Colorado, for example, has an average teaching salary of around $57,000; in comparison, Florida’s average teacher salary is $48,000.
While we must always consider how this pandemic is affecting teachers, it is important to remember they are not the only ones suffering amid the Omicron surge — students have had trouble with their schooling as well.
Spar says that these continuous disruptions in the school year have clearly had a negative effect on children’s ability to learn. This seems to be rather obvious considering the disruptions in question are related to health, finances and a global pandemic.
As Covid-19 can easily spread through schools and classrooms, it is reasonable to conclude that teachers and students — particularly those who are immunocompromised — run a high risk of contracting Covid-19. Moreover, this would not even be their fault given that their government is not allowing measures of online school to return, no matter how bad Covid-19 numbers get.
Given the notorious lack of respect for teachers on top of the high risk of developing Covid-19 while being in a school for prolonged periods of time, it seems as though the least DeSantis can do is provide adequate testing for those in that situation.
Adequate testing, in this sense, would mean tests that are not expired as was the case in Broward County in South Florida. Despite the state government claiming that tests can be used three months after their expiration date, the national government recently announced that it would be sending 10 million tests every month to schools all over the country.
So far, this has been met with support. Dr. Mara Aspinall from Arizona State University commended the White House for taking an important step forward, though she did note the time frame of getting the tests to people between seven and 12 days is nowhere near perfect.
In response to concerns over proper testing for the virus, DeSantis said it is undesirable to use testing as a way to limit education and opportunity. However, what DeSantis misses is that testing will only be used in this way as a product of his actions.
If he makes testing more accessible while also giving teachers due respect through proper payment and making online learning possible for Covid-positive students and teachers, testing will pose no threat to education.
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Featured image: Melbourne High School. Unmodified image by Scapler used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/3rv2lHg)