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Florida Teachers Who Demanded to Work from Home Caught at Mass Gatherings

Broward County Public Schools caught teachers at rallies and parties

An elementary-school classroom during the pandemic / Getty Images
• January 27, 2021 5:20 pm

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Several Florida teachers who received special permission to work from home due to coronavirus-related health concerns were found traveling and attending mass gatherings.

At an arbitration hearing this weekend, Broward County Public Schools brought forward evidence—including pictures posted to public social media accounts—that teachers who were granted permission to work from home because of the coronavirus pandemic had attended parties and other crowded events last fall. One teacher flew to a wedding in Jamaica, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and another took a selfie at an October rally for then-candidate Joe Biden.

The hearing resolved a Broward Teachers Union lawsuit that claimed the district improperly canceled work-from-home exemptions for 1,100 teachers. As a result of the hearing, the district can now force teachers to educate students in-person.

One teacher, Tracy Merlin, attended a rally for Biden, according to her publicly available profile picture. Months prior, the second-grade teacher appeared on Chris Cuomo's Prime Time and said she feared that in-person learning could put her daughter's health at risk.

"I'm also a mom. I don't want my daughter to come home with any of that," Merlin said in June. "I've been home since March because that's what we were told to, to go home, to stay safe."

Merlin opposes reopening schools for face-to-face instruction and was one of about 1,700 teachers who received permission to work from home last fall as the district reopened its schools in October.

Those exemptions were set to expire on Jan. 8. The teachers' union sued, however, after the district asked students to return to school in-person on Jan. 11. The following day, Broward County Schools announced it had extended exemptions for 600 teachers, who are allowed to continue working from home this semester.

As a result of the arbitration agreement, Broward Teachers Union president Anna Fusco agreed to the district's requirement for teachers to return to the classroom, and the district said it would turn over information to the union on the process it used to select the 600 teachers who were approved to continue teaching from the home.

Broward Public Schools superintendent Robert Runcie called the agreement a "win for our students" in a statement.

"We recognize the health concerns of our teachers," Runcie said, "and will continue to balance their needs with the needs of students who are struggling and must be back in a safe and healthy school for face-to-face learning."

Teachers' unions across the United States have thwarted their school districts' efforts to return to the classroom for in-person learning, claiming without evidence that schools are unsafe environments for students and teachers during the coronavirus pandemic.

An American Academy of Pediatrics study this month found that the transmission of coronavirus in schools is "extremely rare," as the Washington Free Beacon reported. And an Annenberg Institute study from October found that school districts with strong teachers' unions are less likely to return to in-person learning.