Faculty Members in the Pensacola State College Faculty Association (PSCFA) Union, along with supporters, performed a protest parade of vehicles at the PSC Warrington Campus before the PSC board of trustees meeting took place February 16.
Union President Deborah McClintock led the rally and was joined by United Faculty of Florida President Karen Morian, who later spoke at the board meeting on behalf of PSCFA and UFF.
Nearly two months into the Spring 2021 semester, Pensacola State College instructors continue to fight for safety accommodations concerning students and faculty at high risk for severe infection amid the pandemic.
At the beginning of January, the United Faculty of Florida informed President Meadows of an alleged violation in safety protocol. The Pensacola State College Faculty Association retained legal counsel if legal action is required.
“Four more months. That’s all we’re asking,” PSCFA President Deborah McClintock said in an interview regarding the Spring 2021 classroom policy decision that was made in the Fall of 2020.
“PSC is an outlier in the system, as far as forcing that many classes to be held face to face,” Morian stated at the board meeting. “I’m here to ask you to reopen the conversation with your faculty,” Morian said.
In December 2020, PSC mandated that instructors be required to teach a minimum of two face-to-face classes starting in January. The college decided on this policy with “little to no input on the situation,” according to the PSCFA via the union’s online blog, The Communicator.
In a letter to PSCFA’s Grievance Committee Representative Rita Thrasher, in response to the grievance submitted December 7, 2020, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs Dr. Erin Spicer stated that “Department heads were given general guidance that faculty members be assigned at least two face-to-face classes.”
Dr. Spicer further stated that “final course assignments for faculty members would not necessarily include two, or possibly any, face-to-face classes depending upon the discipline and upon enrollment.”
According to the response letter, some faculty members did receive final course assignments with fewer than two face-to-face classes. Furthermore, Dr. Spicer also said the college did grant reasonable accommodations in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some faculty members were approved for all remote work for the Spring 2021 semester.
“We have made reasonable accommodations for faculty with compromised immune systems. Some have not taught face to face since March,” President Edward Meadows said “The goal is to be fair, but the reality is that when the schedule was to be made [two face-to-face classes] was going to be the average.”
McClintock says that a couple of faculty members have been granted their requests for entirely remote coursework, but she does not know whether the requests were met based on health or well-being concerns.
The administration stated the college had implemented several safety measures since before the summer 2020 semester began, providing additional personal protective equipment, plexiglass shields, sanitizing wipes, and hand sanitizer. Dr. Spicer also said the college would be installing HEPA air filters in all of the buildings’ air systems.
On top of these measures, the college’s Vice President of Administrative Services and General Counsel Dr. Tom Gilliam is actively working with the Department of Health to provide vaccines on one or more campuses including all PSC employees.
“We are following the CDC guidelines for masks, social distancing, cleaning classrooms with 24-hour germicide,” said President Meadows. “We’re doing what everybody else is doing. To my knowledge, it’s working.”
Still, some faculty members are not satisfied with the conditions and precautions the college is maintaining. These faculty are upset about the lack of communication from the college administration.
Gov. Ron DeSantis did say he wants to expand vaccinations to K-12 teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement age 50 and older as the state receives additional vaccines on February 23. This expansion is set to begin this first week of March, and Gov. DeSantis announced four federally supported sites these vaccinations would take place. None of these are located in Northwest Florida at this time.
The number of Covid-19 related deaths recently passed a grim milestone of 500,000. This milestone could have been largely avoided. Now, the total number of cases is declining as vaccinations continue to roll out, and scientists are optimistic about the pandemic coming to an end this year. But until the United States reaches herd immunity, and with the virus mutating, experts say the country is not safe to return to normal operations just yet.