FROM THE LEFT-The Daily Commercial: Does Gov. DeSantis deserve a passing grade from teachers?

Patricia Jackson Guest Columnist
Gov. Ron DeSantis, in his quest for reelection in 2022 and a potential run for president in 2024, is leaving no stone unturned pandering to his current and future supporters. His latest attempts focus on rewarding teachers and school principals with a $1,000 bonus for their service during the pandemic.

While the sacrifices and commitment to their students that teachers make on a daily basis, under normal circumstances, are extraordinary, COVID- 19 has brought with it unforeseen challenges. What, then, could be wrong in rewarding these unsung heroes? Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as simple or altruistic as it seems. While DeSantis seeks to give teachers this bonus apple, there are several worms in it. The source of this funding comes from monies that Florida, as well as all states, received from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), part of the American Rescue Plan Act which, by the way, no Republican voted for. Isn’t it convenient that DeSantis stands to profit from something his party didn’t support but he is more than happy to use it to his advantage?

The ESSER guidelines state that the monies are to be used to “meet a wide range of needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic including reopening schools safely, sustaining their safe operation and addressing student’s social, emotional, mental health and academic needs training resulting from the pandemic.”

Further, “these funds are to be use to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups including each major racial and ethnic group, low-income families, differently abled children, English learners, gender, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care.”

As you can see, the focus of the plan is to provide a safe school environment and support to those students who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, making no mention of teacher compensation, albeit merited.

In spite of this, DeSantis is moving ahead with his plan to distribute checks but hit a roadblock when he derailed the direct mailing to districts in favor of sending the checks out over his signature, obviously taking a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook when he sent the stimulus checks out over his signature. Great minds think alike!

What is interesting is that this care and concern for teachers demonstrated by the bonus checks runs counter to his plan to force teachers back into the classroom five days a week during the 2020-21 school year. At that time, COVID- 19 hospitalizations and deaths continued to rise with the possibility of a vaccine by the end of 2020.

Needless to say, teachers were hesitant to return to the classroom in fear of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to their families. Unfortunately, teachers were not deemed “essential workers” during the initial roll-out of the vaccinations and were not eligible until early spring.

While the mask mandate continues to draw opposition, DeSantis has gone so far as threatening to pull funding from and levying fines against schools that make masking mandatory, in addition to placing teacher and administrator salaries in jeopardy citing that he “wants our children to be able to breathe.”

Unfortunately, if they contract COVID- 19 their breathing may come with the assistance of a ventilator.

What part of these measures shows that DeSantis is mindful of the safety of teachers, staff or students?

What’s even more troubling is the fact that these tactics can be seen as a form of bullying. How can we teach our children that bullying is wrong when our elected leader is doing exactly that?

DeSantis deserves a failing grade from teachers and constituents for his inability to lay aside his self-serving motives and focus on plans to ensure that the learning environment is safe, equitable and accessible for all involved.


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