POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Polk County's superintendent of schools on Sunday revealed her plan for covering for up to 1,600 teacher absences the next day. Approximately 700 teachers have taken a personal day to attend an education rally in Tallahassee to push for more school funding.
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Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said during a news conference the district was prepared before winter break to cover 600 teacher absences, then the number skyrocketed this past week.
She said by that point it was too late to change the school calendar to cancel school.
Her plan for covering teacher absences now includes 650 substitute teachers and 450 district staff members to cover classrooms. Some of the high schools will be on block schedules to reduce the amount of teachers needed. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said 30 of his detectives will teach in elementary school classrooms.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to send 30 of our deputies," Judd said. "They all have Bachelor's or Master's degree. They're going into the schools not just for safety and security but to interact all day long with the kids."
"We have the opportunity to interact all day long with the kids. I think that's great. We have the opportunity to recruit one on one for the future and I never want to miss a recruiting opportunity,” Judd added.
Byrd addresses controversial email
Byrd also addressed the email written by an attorney for the Florida Department of Education and forwarded to staff late Friday by her Human Resources Director that stated “a public employee violating the strike provision may be terminated from their public position.”
“I've never said I was going to fire them or threaten them," Byrd said. "The information that they got, the opinion that came back from DOE was the opinion of notifying them and informing them of the law. That's what that was about."
"It was called a strike at some point in different places and that was really informing them of the law," she went on. "And I think it is my obligation to make sure I inform our teachers and educate them if that was a statute and it was something they need to know about, it is my obligation to inform them."
She also apologized for having the email sent to staff at 9:20 p.m. on a Friday night, but said it needed to be sent before Monday.
School board member Billy Townsend, who was initially upset with how all of this was handled, said he was pleased with the news conference.
"I think the important message that came out of that is nobody is getting retaliated against. There’s no threats in effect. She made it clear she’s not firing anybody,” said Townsend.
During the news conference, both the sheriff and superintendent said they support the teachers going to Tallahassee to push for more school funding.