Faculty union says keep kids off college campuses during pandemic: “This is not the time to experiment”

Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Credit: FAMU's Facebook

Higher education union leaders are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials to direct all Florida universities and colleges to use remote learning during fall semester, instead of in-person instruction on campuses.

Based on plans compiled weeks ago, Florida college officials didn’t intend to keep all students off campus, but a surge in COVID-19 cases has changed the landscape, according to the United Faculty of Florida.

The statewide union representing faculty made an announcement Friday about their push for all state colleges and universities to return to remote learning,  and held a video news conference Monday, along with the Florida Education Association.

“All it takes is a couple of hard sneezes here and there, and that’s a disaster waiting to happen. And we are already getting emails from concerned and scared students…this is not the time to experiment,” said Jaffar Ali Shahul-Hameed, vice president of the United Faculty of Florida.

In a letter from UFF sent to DeSantis on Monday, the union underscored a variety of issues surrounding reopening college campuses too soon, from potential deaths and hospitalizations among students and faculty, to colleges’ reopening plans failing to reflect the current climate of COVID-19 in the state.

UFF President Karen Morian said in Monday’s news conference that “almost 90 percent of the schools have not made any revisions” to its reopening plans, although Florida’s coronavirus cases continue to spike.

“We’re concerned that the institutional plans were developed six to eight weeks ago when COVID-19 conditions in Florida were decidedly different than today and the majority of those plans have not been updated to address our state’s current pandemic conditions,” Morian said.

As of Monday, the Florida Department of Health reported 432,747 COVID-19 infections, and 5,931 deaths.

To put that in perspective: Florida is 2nd only to California in the number of infections, but ranked 5th among the 50 states based on infections per 100,000 people.

As to the number of deaths, Florida ranks 9th of the 50 states. But it ranks 23rd in the number of deaths per 100,000 people, according to a New York Times analysis.

Morian also said, “They (reopening plans) showed too many common shortcomings with regard to personal health and safety as well as student academic success and mental health support.”

The letter states that many reopening plans don’t have protocols in place to address scenarios involving infections in classrooms among students and faculty, outbreaks in on-campus housing as well as “the inevitable lawsuits arising from on-campus COVID-19 transmission.”

“What is the protocol for re-housing those who share on-campus living spaces (such as dormitories or apartments) with an infected student or their family members (in family housing)?” the letter states.

The letter has also been sent to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, State University System of Florida Chancellor Marshall Criser, and Florida College System Chancellor Kathy Hebda, according to an email from UFF Executive Director Marshall Ogletree.

Meanwhile, on the K-12 education front, state officials face pushback from many concerned teachers, families and staff about the decision to reopen schools.

While the FEA filed a lawsuit this week over K-12 brick-and-mortar schools, Karen told the Florida Phoenix that “right now we don’t have a lawsuit ready to present on behalf of higher education.”