‘I was shocked’: Teachers protest ‘shameful’ firing of over 80 Santa Rosa County teachers

Elizabeth King stood on the sidewalk along U.S. 90 in the August heat Friday morning, along with about 50 other teachers and supporters, to demonstrate against the mass teacher layoffs this week in Santa Rosa County.

King, who has worked in the Santa Rosa County School District for 13 years and was getting ready to start the school year as a teacher at Berryhill Elementary, said she spent all summer getting her classroom prepared but was informed Wednesday that her position had been eliminated. 

“The reason they said I was let go was because I was the most recently hired,” said King, who began working at Berryhill in January. “I’m devastated. Everything was totally ready and set up for my kids.” 

King was protesting along with her husband, Justin King, who teaches at S.S. Dixon Intermediate School, and their three children, 4-year-old Colin, 7-year-old Hadley and 10-year-old Harrison. Harrison’s teacher at S.S. Dixon Intermediate was laid off as well, King said.

After demonstrating for about an hour, the King family had to leave so Elizabeth could clean out the classroom she had poured her heart and soul into for the past few months. 

“It’s not fair,” said Harrison, who held a small sign that said “Support Our Teachers.” 

At least 80 teachers were laid off this week and an additional 80 were re-assigned to remote learning positions, less than a week before teachers are expected to return to their classrooms before the start of the school year. Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said the layoffs were due to “low student enrollment numbers” during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our enrollment is significantly down,” Wyrosdick said in an email to the News Journal on Thursday. “Without enrollment we do not need as many teachers.” 

But teachers who demonstrated Friday morning outside the school district’s administration building on U.S. 90 in Milton said they didn’t understand why district administrators wouldn’t keep the teachers employed and take advantage of the smaller class sizes, something rare in a school district that has been plagued with overcrowding for the past five years. 

Teacher layoffs: At least 80 Santa Rosa County teachers laid off, 80 reassigned due to low enrollment

What to expect this school year: ‘I’m scared to death’: 82% of Santa Rosa County students will return to school in-person

And despite having 1,200 fewer student this year and 5,000 students who chose remote learning over in-person learning, the district’s proposed 2020-2021 budget is more than $407 million — a nearly 8% increase from last year. 

“I hope that they bring these 80 teachers back and give us the class sizes that we need for social distancing,” said Ginny Lanter, a third-grade teacher at Holley-Navarre Intermediate who was among the demonstrators Friday. “We’ll have empty classrooms and then kids packed together in classrooms, and if you brought these teachers back, we wouldn’t have that problem.” 

Teachers who were laid off had already decorated their classrooms 

Teachers who lost their jobs say the layoffs cut especially deep because they were scheduled to go back to school Monday and students are slated to return Aug. 24. 

The teachers have been going through trainings all summer, have decorated their classrooms, have been preparing to have socially distanced classes and in many cases, had already been assigned students and had communicated with them and their parents. 

Jana Babst, for instance, was a kindergarten teacher at West Navarre Primary who was informed this week that she was going to be laid off. Babst said she spent more than $1,000 of her own money getting her classroom ready this summer, including buying an air purifier for her classroom, and had spent hours in training away from her own family.