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Broward Schools: 600 Sick Teachers Allowed To Keep Working From Home. More Than 1,100 Others Must Go Back

Miami Herald photo of Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie speaking to the media on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

After the Broward Teachers Union filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Broward County school district — for ending remote work accommodations for 1,700 teachers and 300 school staff — Runcie announced schools across the county have decided 600 of those teachers can continue to work remotely due to their health.

Broward County's school district is struggling to balance teachers' health concerns with more students doing poorly in e-learning — and the spread of COVID-19.

Of the 1,700 teachers and 300 school staff that have been working from home during the pandemic, 600 of them have been told by their schools that they can continue to work from home.

The rest are expected to report to their campuses Monday.

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Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie held a press conference Friday to address the district's challenges.

"Remote learning is working for some students, but for far too many, it is not working at all. And we have got to do better," he said. "We can no longer continue to warehouse our students in cafeterias, gymnasiums and media centers while teachers are at home. We are encouraging our students, especially those who are struggling, to return to school for face-to-face instruction."

The Broward Teachers Union filed a lawsuit Thursday against the district over ending remote work accommodations. Earlier this week, union president Anna Fusco expressed her concerns about requiring teachers and staff to return to campuses.

"Our superintendent has made the decision to stop accommodations and have everyone go back into the schools on Monday. And now we have some of our most vulnerable, our most ill, that might not be at that 65 age that are not going to be able to get the vaccine," she said.

Fusco implored the Broward County delegation in the Florida Legislature to advocate for giving teachers vaccination priority.

Runcie said he could not comment on the union's lawsuit.

However, he did say that work with schools — to see if they can afford to have some teachers continue to work from home — has been going on since before the lawsuit and before the winter break.

"We are not going to be able to grant everyone who desires a remote work assignment a work assignment. That's just not going to happen," he said. "We are going to do the very best we can by balancing the needs of the school and the requests that we have."

Runcie said the number of students with "F" grades in the district has gone from 4% to 11% during distance learning in the pandemic.

And the number of habitually-truant students — those who have missed 15 days of school or more — has risen from 1,700 to 8,200, according to Runcie.

"Of great concern is the fact that we've identified 59,000 students who are not making adequate academic progress," he said. "We are encouraging our students, especially those who are struggling, to return to school for face-to-face instruction and the valuable support services that we can provide to them."

Runcie also stated that the list of 600 instructional staff that will be allowed to continue to work from home, for the sake of their health, could grow. There are schools that are expected to submit their operational plans to the district by the end of the day Friday, and some that may submit their plans into next week.

Those plans, depending on the school, could allow for some more teachers to stay home.

The only teachers that would be eligible would come from the list of 1,700 that had already been working remotely under an established accommodation.

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.