Communication Builds Our Community

Large Teacher Absence Expected Jan. 13 for Tallahassee Rally

Charter Schools Expect Little Impact

While the Polk County Public Schools anticipate about 1,600 teachers to be absent Monday, Jan. 13 to attend an education rally in Tallahassee, Lake Wales High School Principal Donna Dunson said she didn't expect any disruption in the local charter schools.

Dunson said charter school teachers support the purpose of the rally, but most are expected to be in their classrooms Monday.

Polk County Public Schools were scrambling to provide coverage for the absent teachers, with about 650 substitutes from Kelly Services and another 450 district staff members. District officials said non-classroom teachers, such as media specialists and guidance counselors would provide additional support along with employees from local municipalities, 17 law enforcement agencies and the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

Polk Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd issued a statement Sunday to reassure teachers that an emailed letter they received from the Florida Department of Education's General Counsel was not a threat to fire teachers who did not report to work Monday.

Byrd said because of the scope of the planned absence the district reached out to the state DOE for guidance and they issued the opinion, which she shared with all staff.

Here is Byrd's statement issued Sunday: "My primary obligations are to my students and teachers. My absolute top concern is to keep students safe and ensure they receive a quality education. I have been working with local officials for months, and was aware and prepared for the 600 absences reported earlier this month, so I could facilitate people participating in the political process but also fulfill my duty - protecting our students.

However, as the rally drew closer, anticipated absences more than doubled, which left just days to plan for an additional 1,000 staff absences. I reached out to state leaders to request guidance on our plan to bring well-qualified and caring substitutes, and non-school based employees of our district, into schools to ensure a safe learning environment.

The FDOE provided guidance and made the decision to issue an opinion on the situation. The FDOE issued its opinion with the intention it be shared with my employees. It was imperative that I share the email with staff to ensure they are well informed. I, along with FDOE, must ensure students are protected and that all teachers are aware of the laws of Florida.

The letter from FDOE's General Counsel was not a threat from me to fire staff.

It is my duty as superintendent to inform parents, teachers, and students of the status of our educational environment and ensure each and every Polk County student receives the best education every day. Earlier, Stephanie Yocum, president of the Polk Education Association, sent an email asking for those who have not RSVP'd to ride the bus to instead report to work. I support her request.

We thank all of our staff for the tremendous work they do for our students throughout the year. I also want to thank the substitutes, district staff members, and additional law enforcement officers who will be working in classrooms on Monday. We appreciate your flexibility and your willingness to step up when our students need you.

While this has been a challenging week for Polk County Public Schools, we are working together to give our best on Monday - and every day."


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