Florida Judge Rules State Order Requiring Schools To Reopen ‘Unconstitutional’

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Layer Elementary School in Winter Springs, Fla., opened with enhanced safety precautions due to COVID-19. An emergency order initially required school districts statewide to open for in-person learning by Aug. 31, but was temporarily struck down by a judge on Monday.

Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Dodson pointed to the case of Hillsborough County earlier this month, where the local school board voted to delay the start of in-person learning by three weeks based on the advice of medical experts, but walked that decision back after getting a letter from Corcoran that said they would not otherwise receive financial flexibility.

«Defendants arbitrarily prioritized reopening schools statewide in August over safety and the advice of health experts,» Dodson wrote. «And all school districts complied in order to avoid a drastic loss of state funding.»

In an exception to the order, the state did allow three South Florida counties hard-hit by COVID-19 — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach — to begin the year with distance learning.

Andrew Spar, vice president of the FEA, said at a press conference that the «overwhelming majority» of districts have already started school, and more are set to open on Monday.

Before the appeal was announced, educators and legal experts said at the FEA press conference that the injunction would allow schools to make their own decisions about remaining open, moving to virtual learning or further delaying opening based on local conditions without having to submit a plan for state approval.

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According to the FEA, several counties are struggling with confirmed cases and quarantines soon after reopening for in-person instruction. It said Martin County, the most populous county to open in the first half of August, has had to quarantine nearly 300 students and several educators.

Dodson also acknowledged that teachers overwhelmingly want to be back in school, but many may not be able to stay in the classroom or even in the profession due to unsafe conditions in school buildings that have opened.

For example, he said, some classrooms may not provide enough space for proper social distancing, and teachers may lack adequate personal protective equipment or time to thoroughly sanitize their classrooms. Those safety concerns are exacerbated if teachers or members of their household have pre-existing conditions that could make them more vulnerable to the virus.

«They chose to teach because they have a passion for teaching our children,» Dodson wrote. «They want to be in the classroom interacting with their students. But the evidence was clear that there are teachers falling hard through the cracks because of this order.»

The FEA praised the court’s ruling on Monday.

«This is only a temporary injunction, but we plan to press ahead in court,» President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement. «Local communities should have the freedom to make the best decisions for reopening or keeping open local schools. Our districts should not be ruled by reckless edicts from on high. Safety must come before politics.»

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the injunction a relief and said «safety has to come first.» She also said an appeal was expected.

Earlier on Monday, DeSantis said that Florida had just reported its lowest number of COVID-19 cases since June 14.

  • school reopening
  • coronavirus in the U.S.
  • Florida

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