According to NBC Miami, Miami-Dade Schools plan to open August 31st with online instruction in place, with in-person instruction planned to resume in October if virus case numbers in Miami-Dade can be reduced sufficiently. Miami-Dade school officials note that if a student or teacher tests positive for the virus, the plan would be to isolate students and the infected teacher, and anyone the infected person may have come into close contact with, but given the nature of COVID-19, it isn’t clear how widespread contagion of a school would be managed. Another issue is what will happen if a teacher gets sick and believes he or she got sick from infected students or co-workers.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Leon County schools denied Chiles High School’s athletic director’s workers’ compensation claim. Leon County schools claimed that the director was unable to prove that he contracted the virus on the job. According to the athletic director, he believes he caught the virus while working with a student who tested positive in an enclosed workout room. The teacher has experienced serious symptoms and expects that he may miss as much as a month of work. He has had to take the time off from his own leave and isn’t being paid. This raises serious questions for the risks that teachers will be taking should they be asked to teach in the classroom, and what steps the district and state plan to take to protect them should they get sick or need extensive leave due to the symptoms of COVID-19. It seems only fair that teachers should receive the same kinds of protections that front-line healthcare workers are getting. After all, schools are environments perfect for spreading the virus and most schools don’t have the space for proper social distancing.
When it comes to COVID-19 claims among teachers, should school resume, the great challenge will be proving that infection took place at work. That is, unless schools guarantee that teachers should receive coverage because they are putting themselves at risk. Some critics of delayed school openings claim that teachers, like nurses and doctors, should see it as their job to show up, virus or not, but if this expectation is going to be put on the shoulders of our teachers, then they need to be able to show up to work knowing that they’ll be covered should they need to take time off to heal from the virus, or should they need medical care. Reports indicate that some people who contract COVID-19 become “long-haulers.” That is, they can suffer ongoing cardiac, lung, and even cognitive issues as a result of exposure.
School re-openings in Florida have been fraught with many legal issues. According to NPR, a Florida judge declared that Florida’s order to force schools to re-open at the end of August unconstitutional. Under Florida’s constitution, the state is required to ensure that schools can operate safely. As it stands, not all parents are convinced that schools will be able to open safely even in October. The Florida Education Association, the state’s teacher’s union has also expressed its concerns with the plan to re-open. Many teachers and parents are demanding that the state use a science-based approach when deciding when to re-open.
Some teachers have even expressed concerns that they might have to leave teaching altogether, stating that the risk of returning to work is simply not worth putting their lives at risk. In some areas where teachers are being forced back into the classroom, schools are seeing resignations from teachers who believe that distance learning is the better and safer option. Teachers have also expressed concern that schools don’t have the space to provide six feet of distance between all students, that they don’t have the cleaning staff to ensure that everything is properly sanitized, and that they don’t have a plan in place to protect teachers with pre-existing conditions or students whose health could be compromised should they come in contact with the virus.
Paid time off permitted for COVID-19 only covers two weeks of sick leave. What happens if a teacher has to quarantine because it is believed he or she may have come in contact with a sick student, is then permitted to return to work, and then later gets sick? It is possible some instructors may need more than just the allotted two weeks. The real question here is what kind of worker protections the state is planning to put in place for teachers and vulnerable workers should they be asked to return to the classroom.
Mario Trespalacios, P.A. is a workers’ compensation law firm in Miami, Florida that works with individuals who are fighting to appeal a denied workers’ compensation claim. Our law firm stands with workers and hopes that steps are taken to protect teachers at this crucial time. If you have questions about your rights, reach out to the Miami, Florida workers’ compensation lawyers at Mario Trespalacios, P.A. today or connect with us through USAttorneys.com.