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Judge Refuses Dismissal Of School Reopening Case, Mediation Next For Florida Teachers Union And State

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A Leon County Judge has declined the state’s request to throw out a lawsuit over school reopenings. Judge Charles Dodson is sending the state and Florida’s largest teachers union to mediation. If no deal is reached, the sides are preparing to go to trial. At issue is an order by the Florida Department of Education mandating schools to offer in-person classes.

According to the Florida Department of Health, there have been more than 560,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. More than 9,000 people have died because of the virus. And that’s why the Florida Education Association says the school year should start with virtual classes only.

“We are Wuhan as far as the rest of the world is concerned. We’re going to make a political judgment apparently at the state level to rush to open state schools," said Meyer. "Damn the torpedoes, who cares whether it’s safe or not. And that’s just simply not right and it’s not constitutional.”

That’s FEA Attorney Ron Meyer. The FEA wants the state to allow each district to determine when school begins in-person. Meyer says returning to face to face learning is dangerous for kids and also the staff.

“Look we all want to go back to school. All of the teachers in this state are wanting to go back to school, but they’re not dying to go back to school and that’s what they’re confronted with," said Meyer

David Wells is an attorney for the state. He says distance learning isn’t a good way to adequately teach students.

“Virtual education is no substitution for education in person," said Wells. "We end up with missing students, we end up with students with folks with individual learning programs that suffer, English language folks that suffer, the financially disadvantaged that suffer."

Wells says the state must balance providing high-quality education while keeping kids safe. The FEA argues opening brick and mortar violates that because it puts children in harm’s way.

Leon County Judge Charles Dodson has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday and Thursday but is trying to avoid it. He’s pushing the sides into mediation in an effort to work out the disagreement.

"This is a case that cries out for the parties to get together at this mediation and come up with an agreement," said Dodson. "It’s a very complicated case I know that. And between the Governor and the education commissioner and the plaintiffs, I’m confident that if you all work really hard you can do that."

In the meantime, some school districts have already resumed in-person learning. In Wakulla County school started Thursday. Superintendent Bobby Pearce says residents and staff are happy to get back to some form of normalcy.

“Kids are social and they want to see their friends and even though they can communicate digitally and they might have had the opportunity to see kids away from during the pandemic in different environments," said Pearce. "There’s nothing like school to have that routine and that social opportunity.”

But not all school districts are following that path.