TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A judge ruled against the state Monday in a lawsuit to block an executive order requiring brick-and-mortar schools to reopen.
What You Need To Know
- Temporary injunction granted against Florida executive order
- Judge: brick-and-mortar mandate violates state constitution
- State may appeal, which would keep schools open
- READ the judge's ruling for temporary injunction (.pdf)
The judge granted a temporary injunction of the state's order, part of the Florida Education Association's lawsuit.
Union officials called the August 31 return date arbitrary, and said local districts should have more control over when and how the schools should reopen. It said the Florida Constitution assigns that right to local administrators, and the state's order takes away that power.
In the ruling, the judge said the Florida Constitution requires the state ensure schools are operating safely, and said Florida officials were ignoring that mandate and giving school districts no "meaningful alternative" to hold class without reopening schools because they risk losing school funding if they don't reopen the schools.
The ruling specifically mentioned the situation in Hillsborough County, where the school district wanted to delay reopening schools for in-person classes until September 14, opting instead for all virtual learning, but the state threatened to pull school funding. This was after district officials met with a panel of doctors, the majority of whom said it was not safe to reopen schools at this time.
The judge said if the unconstitutional passages in the executive order are removed it will pass muster, and urged the state to do so.
Union officials say they want brick-and-mortar schools to reopen, but not without safeguards to combat the virus. They referred specifically to a report put out by the American Federation of Teachers back in April to reopen schools safely.
"Seventy-six percent (of teachers surveyed) said if we could get the safety guardrails that are in this report, that starts with actually combatting the virus, that they wanted to be in schools with their kids, knowing brick-and-mortar was a very important way of creating a new normal, a stability for our kids right now," Randi Weingarten, AFT president said.
Weingarten accused of Gov. DeSantis and state education officials of not listening to the science, and playing politics instead, saying the information should instead be based on local needs to mitigate community spread, pointing to Martin County where COVID-19 cases have been found in eight of 23 schools.
"I do not understand why the state has fought us on that, when the state wants to have schooling," Weingarten said. "Work with us, don't appeal this case."
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran told Spectrum News last week that the state would automatically appeal the decision, which would put a hold on the injunction and allow schools to reopen. In a statement, Corcoran said the order was about giving parents and students choices.
Even if the state does not appeal the decision, it's unclear how that will affect education since many school districts have reopened.