FEA President Fedrick Ingram on the dawn of new learning for K-12 schools: ‘You lose that feel, that touch’

Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram leads a rally at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Credit: FEA

Fedrick Ingram is not only the president of the Florida Education Association but he’s a parent who, like many others, is getting adjusted to the new era of education at K-12 schools in Florida: distance learning.

The Bethune-Cookman University graduate anticipates many challenges for teachers and parents when it comes to providing and receiving quality education for their kids during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Ingram said that he is confident that they’ll continue to rise to the occasion.

“I am a parent first. You lose that feel, that touch from having direct contact with another human being,” Ingram told the Florida Phoenix.

Ingram talked to the Phoenix in depth about a variety of issues surrounding the transition to distance learning and the impact of COVID-19 on families, students, teachers and administrators throughout the state. The FEA is a statewide union representing tens of thousands of educators and staff.

In a phone interview with the Florida Phoenix Monday, Ingram explained how teachers in various districts had to quickly adjust to a new learning style and technology that comes with it.

“In about the last ten days, they’ve been asked to recreate, redesign and restructure what they know as normal education. And our teachers have stepped up to the plate as they always do,” Ingram said.

Some of the platforms used for remote learning include Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Canvas and Blackboard, Ingram said. “They’ve gotten some very quick training on virtual schools, on remote learning, continuing education, and they are using any number of platforms.”

Brick-and-mortar schools aren’t open now and it’s likely that most won’t be open until after May 1. So remote learning will be essential.

Rural families face challenges with access to resources and finances 

Many families in rural areas don’t have the proper resources for their kids to participate in online learning and are worried about putting food on the table, Ingram noted.

But FEA is working through these challenges to ensure that students in need have access to equipment such as computers, laptops and other electronic gear for remote learning.

“It is not without bumps in the road,” Ingram said.

He continued: “Connectivity, ensuring that every student in every zip code, regardless of their background and socioeconomic status, whether they are rural or urban, making sure that they have a device and connectivity, that they can be assured of learning until the end of the school year. We are working through those things. It’s a very different world for us. But I have no doubt we’ll make it through until at the least the end of the school year and we’ll reassess from there.”

Ingram said that many parents in rural and urban settings are struggling financially and rely on the breakfast and lunch programs offered by schools to feed their children.

“They need their children to eat. And schools have been that safe haven to have at least two meals a day,” he said.

Ingram said: “A lot of parents out there have been laid off or will be laid off or have delayed paychecks or smaller paychecks…those things become paramount. In fact, it becomes more important than book learning.”

State lawmakers approve pay bumps for teachers during 2020 legislative session

FEA hosted a rally back in January that drew a massive crowd of teachers and other advocates, in an effort to push state lawmakers to support a variety of initiatives.

Those efforts included pushing for more pay for teachers and school staff and for overall funding for public schools.

Ingram said his organization was pleased with the efforts made by FEA and the Florida Legislature.

Ingram said: “Because of what we were able to do – we kept emailing, we kept writing, lobbying every day during session – we were able to get a teacher compensation package from the Legislature, which was in the amount of $500 million…we feel really good about that.”

Employment at public schools next year: ‘There are so many variables and unknowns’

Ingram said during the phone interview that “there are a lot of unknowns” about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect school districts’ budgets and if people will lose their jobs next year.

“The real impact of COVID-19 is going to be going into next year,” he said.

Ingram added: “We don’t know the fiscal impact of COVID-19 at this moment. What we do know is…our school districts can pay people, they can pay for schools to feed children, they can pay for devices, they can allow to ship money to buy software and more internet capability.”

There could be a surge of students moving out of the state because their parents find other jobs if Florida continues to be a COVID-19 hotspot and “people don’t want to be here for the second round” of the virus, Ingram said. “So you have a migration of people moving in or out.”

Ingram said that all full-time public school employees are expected to receive pay for the rest of the school year but he’s uncertain about employment for next school year.

“It depends on what classes can be offered; it depends on if we have to shut schools down one-by-one if COVID-19 has a ‘fall’ resurgence,” he said.

“There are so many variables and unknowns, we just have no idea.”