Education Law

In apparent first, teachers union sues Florida governor to stop schools from reopening during COVID-19 crisis

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A teachers union sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state education commissioner on Monday in a bid to block the reopening of schools.

The lawsuit that claims a July 6 reopening order violates a state constitutional provision requiring schools to be safe and secure, report Courthouse News Service, the Washington Post and the Tampa Bay Times.

The suit appears to be the first of its kind, according to the New York Times.

The suit was filed by the Florida Education Association, the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. Other plaintiffs include teachers and parents.

The suit claims that the “Florida COVID-19 resurgence is remarkable and out of control.”

The suit seeks an order barring the reopening of schools, requiring an online instruction plan, and requiring adequate personal protective equipment before any reopening of brick-and-mortar schools.

The reopening order, issued by the by state education department, says all school boards must reopen brick-and-mortar schools at least five days per week, subject to advice of health officials. Absent health directives, the day-to-day decision to open or close a school rests with local school officials, the order says.

School boards “must provide the full array of services required by law, so that families who wish to educate their children in a brick-and-mortar school full time have the opportunity to do so,” the order says.

The lawsuit notes that the order says reopening is subject to the advice of local health officials but adds that local officials who “cautioned against reopening amid the resurgence of COVID-19 have seemingly been silenced.”

“That the emergency order pays lip service to local health authorities, who are elsewhere being undermined by the executive branch of the state of Florida, underscores its irrational and unconstitutional character,” the suit says.

Local school districts are treating the order as a directive that must be followed, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran emphasized in a statement that the order gives families a choice, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The order “did not order any new directives regarding the requirements of schools to be open; it simply created new innovative options for families to have the choice to decide what works best for the health and safety of their student and family,” Corcoran said.

“Additionally, the order created guaranteed funding for districts and schools to educate innovatively, as long as they continue to provide all students, especially at-risk students, with a world-class education, no matter what option they choose,” Corcoran said.

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