St. Pete law firm offering free living wills for teachers returning to school amid coronavirus surge

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — As Tampa Bay teachers continue to voice their concerns about returning to the classroom next month in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a local law firm is offering to provide them with a free living will.

Gallagher and Associates Law Firm, P.A. posted on Facebook Tuesday that it would provide living wills or advance directives for free to “teachers involuntarily forced to return to the classroom.”

“While we agree with medical experts that it is premature to reopen schools in this Tampa Bay hot zone, we want to do our part to help teachers that are forced to return,” the law firm’s Facebook post said.

8 On Your Side’s Jeff Patterson spoke with attorney Charles Gallagher on Tuesday.

Gallagher heard a story about three teachers going back to work in Arizona for a project. All three teachers contracted COVID-19, and one woman died. It gave him the idea to offer free living wills for teachers going back to work.

“I just thought, ‘my gosh, there is this need out there and we can help, definitely want to help,'” he said.

“It’s not physically possible, with the room they have logistically, to distance and it’s not physically possible for them to be apart from other teachers, other kids.”

Florida’s education commissioner signed an emergency order earlier this month saying all districts throughout the state must reopen in August and provide full services to students at least five days a week. Most districts are allowing families to choose whether they want to send their children back for in-person classes or continue online learning.

Several schools districts including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco will mandate masks for staff members and students who do return to classrooms.

Many teachers, however, have expressed their concerns about returning to school in-person as coronavirus cases continue to spike in Florida.

“I think he’ll be getting a lot of phone calls to be honest with you,” said teacher Michelle Gibson.

“I don’t have [a will], I never really thought about it, as young as I am, that I would need, I mean, maybe I need to think about it.”

“Kids in kindergarten, first, second, third grade, asking them to wear a mask, asking them for compliance throughout the entire day, asking kids who are returning back to school of a kindergarten age to not hug each other and say, ‘I’ve missed you this whole time,’ that’s just impossible,” said Gallagher.

Pinellas County teachers gathered outside the school district Tuesday morning to rally against returning to classrooms.

“We’re calling for a virtual return to school and that when we do ultimately go back we go back with 14 days of no new cases,” high school teacher Dr. Christy Foust said. “Teachers are not blind to the fact that for some of our most vulnerable students, virtual learning is not the most equitable, but our perspective on that is we want them alive. They have no chance to learn if they’re dead or in ICU.”

At least two Tampa Bay school districts so far have also postponed the start of their school years. Polk County Public Schools agreed Tuesday morning to delay the start of the upcoming school year by at least two weeks.

“We are trending upward with the rise of COVID-19 cases, not only in the state but right here in Polk County,” Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said. “At this time, I do not feel it is safe to physically reopen schools on Aug. 10.”

The Sarasota County School Board later voted unanimously to move the school start date from Aug. 10 to Aug. 31.