To the Members of the Lakeland Federation of Teachers and the Larger Lakeland Community:
Like many of you, I was dismayed to see the response to the district’s decision to delay in-person instruction until October 13. The responses on social media were immediate and unlike anything I have seen in my 26-year career in Lakeland. I will not give them more life by repeating them, but they were ugly and a direct assault on the integrity of the teachers in this district.
I would like to believe that these comments were born from an incredibly frustrating situation and not a reflection of reality – for this has been incredibly difficult. The leadership of the Lakeland Federation of Teachers has been telling the district since the beginning of July that we were going to face a staffing crisis and that we would not be able to hire our way out of it. The hybrid model requires 100% of staff to be present every day to safely supervise and instruct students. We have not started any of the last several years fully staffed, and it was wishful thinking to believe we would this year.
Yes, there were medical leaves, but it is important to know that teachers do get sick and some get very sick, and we often show up for work regardless. Allow me to personalize this for a moment. On June 8, 2019, I suffered a massive heart attack while on a bike ride. My friend’s quick thinking saved my life. I returned to work a week later because it was important to me for my students to see me standing tall in front of them before they graduated. My doctor didn’t like it, but he let me go. Now my doctor says I am in the highest risk category for Covid-related complications and I should not be in a school. Am I going to take a leave? Yes. Does this mean I should retire, resign, or be brought up on 3020-a charges? Absolutely not. My illness and others like mine were known. Though they did not know all the specifics, the district knew we would have to hire leaves.
Yes, there will be childcare leaves. This also contributes to our staffing crisis, but it was also known. These are not leaves for preschool-aged children; there is capacity in the community for that. These are leaves for teachers who, like so many parents, have school-aged children and communities have no capacity to meet the need. There is no surplus capacity in any community for a teacher looking for a space to care for a second-grader. If you are a teacher with a second grader and your home district just moved to a remote or a hybrid model, your decision, in many cases, is to teach or care for my child. I would hope we could agree that caring for your child is every parent’s primary purpose.
The issue is not that there needed to be leaves – everyone looking at the situation knew this. Rather, the issue is the administration waited until the last minute to recognize that we could not hire enough staff for these leaves; this was also known and communicated early in the process. We are in the middle of an acute teacher shortage. Though the problems were known, this crisis was the result of when the decision was made to act. The community could have been told at multiple points that there were still significant hurdles to cross and we would only open in-person instruction when we could guarantee sufficient staffing.
The Lakeland Federation of Teachers has always sought to work with the administration to ensure that we provide for the needs of students and staff. These issues are not unique to Lakeland, and as I write this, another of our neighbors has announced the decision to move to a remote start. Some districts have been able to alleviate the leave issue by granting telework options or creating fully remote cohorts of teachers and students, both of which we encouraged here. The Lakeland Federation of Teachers is currently engaged with the district to try and solve the childcare issue by expanding capacity in our community.
As always, the Lakeland Federation of Teachers remains committed to our students, their families, and the community. We strive to provide the best and safest possible education for our students.
President, Lakeland Federation of Teachers