Leon County teachers worry of exposure

Leon County Schools. Photo courtesy Leon County Schools

The compendious frustrations that have surfaced throughout the public education system in Leon County let alone the United States, has proposed concerns for many teachers across the county.

With COVID-19 changing the normalizations of everyday school life, teachers fear for their health as decisions are being made without their voices being heard.

As of September 18, 677,660 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in Florida with 8,768 of those cases being in Leon County, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Jessica Barthle, an art teacher at a Leon County Public School, says it is dissatisfying constantly being praised for meeting the needs of students but not being accommodated for her personal well-being and mental health.

Barthle requested Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations from the district to teach from home because of her partner being at high risk of the virus but was denied accommodations.

With the numbers of infected employees and students rising in Leon County, Barthle’s school has had one positive COVID-19 case. Although the number of in-person students for Barthle’s class is low now, she is afraid that number can drastically change if students decide to sign up for in-person learning.

Over the last 14 days, 36 students and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Leon County School system.

Barthle does a weekly check-in with her in-person and online students to see if they are having any problems not only with the course but with their mental stability.

“I encourage the Leon County School Board to earnestly listen and not for the sake of listening but for the sake of implementing action to your teachers,” said Barthle.

36 teachers have left the profession of teaching and that number is expected to continue rising as COVID numbers rise. Leon County Schools has opened the option for students to return to in-person classes after the first nine weeks of school.

Barthle stressed that she didn’t want to see the progress we are making reverse because people are making reactionary decisions rather than acknowledging that what we are doing is working.

Barthle’s partner, Max Epstein, says what LCS Board has decided to do for its teachers has completely ignored the science of the pandemic.

“My partner has been in extreme mental distress and anxiety from figuring out how to teach hybrid courses,” said Epstein.

The couple has come to choosing between their family and their careers as separation has become a topic in their home.

Scott Mazur, president of the Leon County Teachers Association, says everyone must work together in supporting one another through these unprecedented times.

“We all need to be reasonable in the expectations we are asking of each other. It is not that teachers are lazy or trying to get out of work, but they are trying to do their A game in some of the most difficult and unexpected situations,” said Mazur. “Their hardest critics are themselves.”

Mazur emphasized that it is not only about coming together but also getting involved in the process at the ballot box and engaging with the individuals who make the decisions.

“It is going to be very important not just over the next month but over the next decade that people stay involved in the process because that’s where the decisions are started,” said Mazur.