To protect school staff, bus drivers, students and parents during the COVID-19 crisis, Workers World Party-Central Gulf Coast and the Party for Socialism and Liberation-Central Gulf Coast teamed up to call “Six Days of Actions: Florida Fights Back!” across the state on Aug. 3-8.
The main demand for the entire week was that schools return to virtual-only instruction for the duration of the pandemic. c.
On Monday, Aug. 3, protests were held in solidarity with the National Day of Resistance (#demandsafeschools) called by the National Education Association and Democratic Socialists of America. On Aug. 4, there was a phone, email and Twitter zap to demand Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran remove their mandate that all students return to brick-and-mortar buildings five days a week for this school year.
On Wednesday, Aug. 5, teachers and school staff wrote and shared their obituaries as a display of how the state government will harm education workers.
School staff was encouraged to agitate their local county officials on Aug. 6. In Escambia County, where WWP-Central Gulf Coast and PSL-Central Gulf Coast are located, comrades spoke at the county commissioners meeting. Along with members of Escambia County Area Transportation Union, they demanded a countywide mask order for safety during the pandemic.
On Friday, Aug. 7, school education workers took part in a social media blast to encourage everyone statewide to attend a protest to be held at the Florida governor’s mansion the following day.
The Aug. 8 afternoon protest was the culmination of the six days of action, with about 60 people attending and with speakers from WWP, PSL, Democrat Socialists of America, Tallahassee Action Committee, Escambia County Teachers Union, Escambia County Education Support Union and Duval County Teachers Union.
Grave stones were placed in front of the mansion to represent the students and teachers that Gov. DeSantis will kill with his bigoted ignorance. The rally ended with militant chants.
Right-wing government attacks on schools
School sessions can be conducted completely online, but the Florida state government is forcing schools to reopen face-to-face this fall. The only thing those in state power care about is the capitalist economy. To keep business running, they want to continue the illusion that “everything will be okay” and the virus will go away on its own.
Meanwhile, workers are being pitted against each other and individuals are being blamed for the resurgence in COVID-19 cases. In reality, there should never have been any reopening of businesses and now certainly not a reopening of schools.
Gov. DeSantis and Commission Corcoran’s mandate to force brick-and-mortar schools to open or lose funding is just one more item on a long list of attacks on public education that have hurt the state’s people, and especially oppressed people.
There have been both federal and state education funding cuts over the past several decades. School funding based on income tax of neighborhoods around schools has ensured poor, predominantly Black neighborhood schools get the least amount of funding. More police in school and increased racist suspensions guarantee that more Black students are funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline or drop out of school entirely.
Meanwhile, Florida government leaders have long been attacking public education in favor of for-profit education since public education doesn’t make money.
Fight for safety guidelines to extend week of action
School teachers, staff and parents in Florida are demanding that no one return to school campuses until there are 14 days with no new COVID-19 cases in the state; that all students receive free food service, universal access to the internet and a computer for every student; that police on campus be defunded and that money be used for more counselors, nurses and adequate funding for all schools.
The Florida left-coalition effort has also put forth other demands in support of the state’s education workers, students, parents and communities. These include strict social distancing laws everywhere; free health care for those who have COVID-19; cancelation and forgiveness of rents and mortgages; free food and cleaning supplies to households in need; hazard pay for essential workers; and free, widespread and quick testing.
These supports are not in place because capitalist government is there to keep the for-profit economy going, not to keep people alive. Now people are going to be homeless when their rent is due and they can’t pay it. People are having to choose between their health and their jobs. The lives of student and school workers are at risk — for the sake of the capitalist economy.
Students should not have to die for the economy. School workers should not have to die for the economy. School should be a place where you can hang out with your friends, share notes, supplies and ideas; laugh, hug and work together. School should be a safe place for all. That is not what will be happening.
School reopening in Florida will be risking the health and safety of all people in the state.
Paige is a Representative in the Educational Support Personnel Union in Florida.