Debra L. Robinson, M.D. has fought on behalf of students her whole life. But for over two decades she has sat on the school board of Palm Beach County, often as chair, and mostly as the lone African American. She is now one of two African Americans on the Board, including Marcia Andrews.
But during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic, Robinson’s fight is markedly different. She’s not just fighting for the best education for the nearly 200,000 students in the district–she’s fighting for their very lives – and teachers and staff too.
Last week she testified in a lawsuit which essentially pits teachers against the school district as teachers fight for the right to stay at home and teach virtually during the pandemic. A judge on Tuesday denied the lawsuit filed on behalf of seven teachers. Attorney Barry Silver, representing the teachers, cites he has no confidence in Superintendent Donald E. Fennoy’s ability to safeguard teachers during this nationwide crisis. Silver says that left teachers no choice but to file the lawsuit to close brick and mortar classrooms in the county. He says it is just too dangerous to be in class. Schools re-opened September 21. Administrators say, however, that hundreds of teachers with health conditions are allowed to work from home although more than 1000 have been told to teach on campus. Teachers say they shouldn’t be forced to quit.
But in an emergency hearing last week, Robinson spoke before the judge and it appeared, she spoke on behalf of the teachers. But in a telephone interview Monday, Robinson told the South Florida Times she was actually subpoenaed. And thus, she ended up before the judge. Robinson had stated that re-opening schools was not safe for students or staff. Silver said Robinson was the only one of the seven board members who got it right. He is mounting a recall against the other six members, calling for them to be dismissed. Robinson, however, said she wasn’t actually speaking on the teachers’ behalf but was simply speaking her honest opinion. “I’m just speaking my truth for everyone involved.”
Robinson said although she believes the superintendent has made some missteps, she was not in support of getting rid of him, as Silver and the Classroom Teachers Association have desired. “With the reopening of schools, we needn’t think about such a change at this time. There’s a lot of room for improvement with Fennoy. I’ve been trying to work on getting COVID testing at the schools, so I put it in their hands and have heard nothing,” she stated. But she thus far has no idea if the district has any interest or desire in the measure. She also points out that having teachers do both in-classroom teaching and virtual teaching simultaneously is a huge mistake. “That certainly has disadvantages,” she lamented. “We thought the teachers were going to do one or the other but not both.”
And although Robinson spoke at the lawsuit hearing, she believes the lawsuit was misguided. She said calling for schools to be shut down is pointless, considering schools have already opened.
Even the judge indicated the lawsuit may have been unfounded because it never appeared he had jurisdiction to decide on measures taken by the school district. The judge denied the motion on Tuesday.
“We just need to solve this problem!” said Robinson, who caught widespread attention recently when she wrote an impassioned, lengthy Facebook post, saying she was saddened and heartsick over the reopening of brick and mortar classrooms.
She stated more leadership was needed in the district.