At least 160 teachers in Santa Rosa County were either laid off or reassigned Wednesday, less than two weeks before the start of the new school year, due to declining student enrollment numbers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick confirmed the layoffs to the News Journal on Thursday morning, saying “80-plus” teachers were moved from brick-and-mortar classrooms to virtual/remote positions and “80-plus” were let go completely.
“Our enrollment is significantly down,” Wyrosdick said via email. “Without enrollment, we do not need as many teachers. At present, we are more than 1,200 students below our projected numbers. In addition, 5,000 students chose to be taught virtually. Virtual classes are larger and this reduces the need for teachers as well.”
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The layoffs come the week after the deadline for Santa Rosa County parents to indicate whether their children would return to brick-and-mortar school or choose an online school or remote learning option. About 82% of students said they’ll return to in-person learning this year, while 8% chose online virtual school and 10% chose remote learning.
David Godwin, a Pace High School math teacher and spokesman for the Santa Rosa Professional Educators teachers’ union, said teachers expected budget cutbacks due to the low enrollment numbers, but the layoffs Wednesday came as a gut-wrenching surprise.
“This is just part of the pandemic where people’s livelihoods are being affected,” Godwin said. “Teachers weren’t affected so much last spring when this all started, because the funding for last school year was already in place. We knew it was going to be this year when there would be issues.”
Godwin said many of the teachers who were laid off were caught off guard, and have spent the past several weeks decorating their classrooms and getting excited for the upcoming school year.
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“My heart breaks for them,” he said. “I know a teacher who just moved here and she’s been working on her classroom all week, and now she found out that she’s going to sign separation papers because the enrollment is not there to support her position. I hate it for them.”
Teachers in Santa Rosa County who still have jobs are busy preparing for the start of school Aug. 24, when the nearly 24,000 students who chose to come back to in-person school this year are expected to report to classrooms across the county.
Each school has a series of COVID-19 measures in place, including protocols for if a child or educator tests positive for the virus and mandatory mask wearing and social distancing when possible.
Annie Blanks can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8632.