PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – A Pinellas County teacher is speaking to CW44 News At 10, exclusively, after she says her pre-existing medical condition makes it dangerous to work in a classroom, but that the school district denied her request to teach virtually.

“The only choices I have remaining for myself now is A. retire early, or I can take a medical leave of absence under no pay,” said a Pinellas County Teacher who wishes to remain anonymous. She is left with making a tough decision after she says she was denied to teach online classes instead of in-person by the school district.

“When I was 30, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune deficiency disease called Crohn’s,” said the teacher. With more than 3 decades at Pinellas County Schools, her disease caused her to miss work and added limitations. “I couldn’t carry more than ten pounds.,” she explained. But with new obstacles to face, she says there’s more to worry about now with schools reopening. “Both, my physician assistant and my doctor, both of them have recommended that I do not go back into a classroom because I am at such a high risk [due to COVID-19],” said the teacher.

According to the Pinellas County School District, employees with pre-existing health conditions need to provide documentation to become a candidate for teaching online classes. “We had about three hundred employees that requested the alternative assignment due to the health condition, but until they are able to provide that medical documentation, we have them listed in category four,” explained Paula Texel, the Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Services, during Tuesday’s special called board meeting. Once that documentation is provided, officials say the employee is then moved to category one. But this teacher says that’s not what happened in her case.

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“The Human Resources Department from Pinellas County Schools sent out to every staff member… it had four things on it. And you marked where you fit in that category,” said the teacher. “On that paperwork, nowhere did it list any autoimmune deficiency disease. My doctor wrote mine in and they basically said, I ‘have an autoimmune deficiency disease which automatically suppresses my immune system, but on top of that, I take the Humira shot and would be at high risk of catching an infectious disease’.”  She says she received the call a week ago, “I was not a category one. I was actually a category four, which is the least priority for online classes,” said the teacher.

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“When I questioned [being classified as a category four], they sent me back an email with their guidelines that they use from the CDC and that was their justification of why I am a category four and not eligible for online,” the teacher said. Earlier this week, district officials met with staff about eligibility guidelines. “We did meet with our principals to remind and to discuss the importance of making sure that we are doing whatever possible to assign these employees in this category to a virtual assignment due to their documented underlying health condition,” explained Texel. But this teacher says her only choice right now is to report back to the classroom. “I didn’t ask for this disease, it’s a hereditary, genetic disease,” said the teacher. “So, I either take the risk and go into the classroom and pray that, ‘please, Lord, don’t let me catch this disease… or I go without money…”

Pinellas County instructional personnel, including this teacher, returned to classrooms Thursday. Students return on August 24, 2020, giving her just 11 days to determine her next step.

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