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Sundial

Teachers call in sick, FPL looks to change solar, and FIU students want their money back

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Thousands of teachers are calling in sick as Omicron infections continue to surge. We speak with the president of the Broward teacher’s union. Also, a new Guardian report shows that FPL is working to gain more money from solar energy in Florida. Plus, a group of FIU students are suing the school to get money back for services they didn’t get during the pandemic.

On this Thursday Jan. 6 episode of Sundial:

Omicron has teachers calling out

Teachers are calling out sick in Miami-Dade and Broward county public schools — by the thousands — as new Omicron COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Florida.

The staffing shortages are even forcing some district staff out of the administrative office and into classrooms. Plus, bus drivers who are healthy are having to pick up double routes to make up for drivers out sick.

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We spoke with the President of the Broward Teacher's Union, Anna Fusco about the shortage and what's being done about it.

"I'm hoping that whatever this variant is, that it just passes through really quick and gets done and over with," she said. "It's only been a week... because, for teachers to sustain at this level of taking on extra work and longer days... it can build on them and can cause a whole other type of illness with stress and fatigue and weaken their immune system even if they don't catch this variant."

Down more teachers than normal, an average of 1,600 in Broward County this week, Fusco said the main thing teachers are telling her is that they are still concerned.

"They're nervous. They don't want to catch it," she said. "Even though people are saying it's mild, it's still like it's still the flu, and it could still, you know, put you in bed. People don't like to miss work. They want to be there for their students."

Listen to Anna Fusco's full interview with Luis Hernandez on Sundial and hear about COVID protocols, masks, politics and where the district stands with needing leadership now:

Teacher shortage
Quesada turns on a fan outside her classroom door. She spends most of her time before class on COVID-19 precautions. She has spent nearly $600 of her own money on air purifiers and fans to improve the ventilation in her classroom.

FPL lobbies to change solar power policy

Florida Power & Light was recently caught sending the wording for a bill to a state lawmaker. Then, its parent company sent $10,000 to her campaign.

The bill would tackle net metering and if solar customers would have to pay more to use solar panels. (Net metering is the policy where solar users can sell excess power they generate back to the grid.)

The stage is set for a legislative debate about solar power in Florida. The legislative session begins next week.

We spoke with Mario Alejandro Ariza, a South Florida reporter for the nonprofit outlet Floodlight. He co-reported this story with Mary Ellen Klas from The Miami Herald and it was published recently in The Guardian.

"Utilities, especially investor owned utilities like FPL, make money by building things, and then they get to transfer the cost of building things onto you, their ratepayers, through your electric bill," Ariza explained. "And that's a regulated process in Florida. The Public Service Commission regulates it. But if you go ahead and put your solar panel on your roof, they don't get to make money off of that. They lose money on that."

The proposed bill is moving its way through committees in the Florida legislature ahead of session beginning Jan. 11.

"It would essentially make it much more expensive, probably to have solar panels on your home. It would make sure that you can paid back at a wholesale rate, not a retail rate," Ariza said of the bill, filed by Sen. Jennifer Bradley after FPL sent wording to her office. "It would allow FPL to charge you connection fees and a minimum monthly payment. Basically, right now, it's really cheap to get a solar panel because you can get a no-cost upfront loan. And this would draw out the time that it would take for you to pay that loan back."

You can hear the full interview with Mario Ariza about what FPL's internal emails show about proposed net metering policy changes:

FPL lobbies to shrink benefits of net metering
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FIU students sue for pandemic money back

When the pandemic hit, students from kindergarten to college had to take classes from home and online.

A group of students from Florida International University were upset that there were fees they had to pay, even though they were not on campus to use certain services. So they filed a class action lawsuit.

And a court recently said they can go forward with it.

"One of the plaintiffs, I was just looking through the court filings, she paid about $600 in these in these specific fees over these three semesters. So. You know, that's one student that could potentially, at the end of this if they're successful in the full lawsuit, get a $600 check from FIU," WLRN Reporter Danny Rivero explained. "Then you multiply that across the thousands of students in Florida International University, but potentially thousands of students at Miami Dade College, which has their own separate lawsuit. And then across the whole state. So that's a lot of money potentially coming back to students."

You can listen to Danny Rivero explain the case in full to Luis Hernandez and what it could mean going forward, below:

FIU pandemic funds lawsuit moves forward
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Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, produces WLRN's midday public affairs program, Sundial weekdays at 1 and 8 p.m. Prior to transitioning to production, Caitie covered news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.