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Lee Schools gets rid of document asking employees to "assume the risks" when coming back to work

Posted at 6:52 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 18:56:39-04

LEE COUNTY — Lee County Schools has gotten rid of a form they were asking employees to sign before they came back to work.

The form asked them to agree they were coming back voluntarily, and accepted any risks of working in the building.

When employees became aware that they might have to agree to accept the risks of coming back to work, they started spreading the word on social media. The union even posted the document to its Facebook page.

We spoke with Johnnie Mae Hawkins, who is a teacher at Varsity Lakes Middle School. She read the document, and was struck by the line that said “I understand and assume the risks."

“That tells me right there that you know that there’s a possibility that we could get sick," said Hawkins.

Hawkins is worried about COVID-19 numbers continuing to rise.

“I want to know that, if I did get sick, will the school district take care of me?” said Hawkins.

Teachers Association of Lee County President Kevin Daly said the form was originally meant for workers over the summer. It was only a few weeks ago he learned people were still being asked to sign it.

“Some administrators had kind of given it to people and said hey listen, I need this for you for August, which clearly wasn’t what the intention was," said Daly.

We spoke with an attorney about what signing a form like this could mean for an employee.

“We hope that folks aren’t going to be asked to sign these documents as conditions of employment, or returning to employment. They are giving away rights they would otherwise have, and it would lessen upon the establishment their duties for safe workplaces," said Charles Gallagher, an attorney with Gallagher and Associates Law Firm, P.A.

Daly says, the school district did not want anyone to feel like they were giving away rights, so they’re going a step further than just getting rid of the form.

“They have agreed to destroy any of the forms that were signed prior to, prior to the discontinuation of the use," said Daly.

Hawkins says, she hopes the focus will be on who is at risk, rather than who might be at fault, when she and her colleagues head back to work.

“We didn’t ask for this virus. It’s not our fault, what we’re dealing with. We just happen to be in a situation where we are high risk," said Hawkins.

Hawkins said, like many teachers, she was asked to fill out a reopening survey. She said she would prefer to only teach virtually, but Daly says, if enough kids sign up to be taught in person, some teachers will have to come back.