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Pinellas Teachers ‘Exhausted And Feeling Defeated’ As Frustration Mounts

teacher in mask speaks
Pinellas County Schools
The Florida Channel
Patrick Mugan, who teaches social studies in Pinellas County, says he is working extra hours, uncompensated, just to keep pace with teaching online and in person.

At a Pinellas County School Board meeting Tuesday, teachers voiced frustration about having to instruct in-person and online students at the same time, as the district tries to balance safety with educational needs while the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

“Teachers are not able to sleep. They are taking Xanax. And they are literally having meltdowns," said Jill Barncord, who teaches in Pinellas.

Patrick Mugan, a Pinellas Park social studies teacher, said simultaneous instruction requires so much extra planning time that the district should consider switching to a four-day week.

“That’s what they do, teachers. We go the extra mile, right?” he said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

A petition against simultaneous teaching has garnered more than 2,600 signatures.

“After only two weeks of school, the teachers are exhausted and feeling defeated,” said Nancy Velardi, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

“These are people who take their obligation to their students very seriously and are dedicated to their profession. This very dedication is causing them to work 15, 16 hours a day and weekends to attempt to master a method of delivery that should have never existed."

The school board acknowledged mounting complaints from teachers, with several members noting that anxiety is high as the district grapples with maintaining safety, reducing class sizes for social distancing, and requiring many teachers to handle both remote and in-person learners.

Superintendent Michael Grego said he wants to hear from staff about ways to help.

“I continue to challenge staff, I continue to challenge PCTA, I continue to challenge all of us to come to the table with solutions to figure out what and how we can work this to improve every day,” he said.

Associate superintendent for teaching and learning Kevin Hendrick said some teachers, parents, and students are striving for perfection when they shouldn’t.

“Nothing that we are doing in this situation is optimal. But we do get better each day and there are definitely tradeoffs for what we are doing,” Hendrick said.

Board members plan to meet with the teachers’ union on Monday to talk about more about possible improvements.

Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.