Lee County school district, all in the region must reassess reopening plans after state mandate

Reporter: Sydney Persing Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
School District of Lee County seal. Photo via WINK News.
School District of Lee County seal. Credit: WINK News.

The School District of Lee County’s reopening task force is discussing whether or not its new plan for schools can still take place. This comes after an emergency order from the state’s education commissioner mandated all Florida schools must open in August.

The District’s task force is trying to figure out what they need to do next. The task force told us it had been working for weeks already to come up with a way to reopen schools safely. But the new plan by the education department forces the District and task force members to go back to the drawing board.

We spoke to educators in Southwest Florida Tuesday who have issues with the Florida Department of Education’s order to reopen schools.

“I’m concerned about the fact that — can we do this in 30 day safely?” said Mary Fisher with Lee County School Board. “You know, without risking people.”

This forces schools to get resources on school campuses they might not have planned for.

“Every day, there has to be a new mask, so we have 15,000 kids,” said Mike Riley, the community liaison for Charlotte County Public Schools. “That’s 15,000 masks a day. That’s going to be eventually an issue.”

Fisher told us the District will try to come up with options to protect those teachers who worry about their health.

The state order makes it clear; the only reason schools should not be open daily is if the local health department rules it unsafe.

Dianira Rivera is a cancer survivor and a North Fort Myers High School Spanish teacher. She was OK with being in the building two days a week. With the order to have schools open five days a week, she’s worried about her health.

“I didn’t see that they were considering the teachers and the well-being of the teachers,” Rivera said.

The state mandate calls for schools to allow for kids to go to class every day, and for teachers to figure out how to serve them and those who stay home equally.

So school districts in the region are trying to figure out if they can do that, and if it’s truly enforceable by the education department.

“Does the state actually have the authority to say this to us?” Fisher said. “And is that circumvent our constitutional authority as a local elected school board?”

That’s what Gary Falkenberg, a special education teacher in Lee County, also wants to know.

“I don’t think teachers were really considered very much,” Falkenberg said.

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