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Judge Sides With Statewide Teachers Union In Florida School Reopen Lawsuit

Feliphe Schiarolli

A Leon County judge is siding with the statewide teachers union in the legal fight over reopening brick and mortar schools in the Fall. The state is appealing the decision.

The Florida Education Association brought the suit against the state Department of Education and Governor Ron DeSantis, alleging the order to reopen campuses by the end of August is unconstitutional. The state constitution requires public schools to be “safe.”

Second Judicial Circuit Judge Charles Dodson agreed with the FEA – in a ruling released Monday afternoon, he granted the teachers union’s request for a temporary injunction.

In his ruling, Dodson wrote that he did find the order unconstitutional, saying the state “essentially ignored the requirement of school safety by requiring the statewide opening of brick-and-mortar schools to receive already allocated funding.”

The state’s order would withhold funding from district that don’t open campuses by the end of August.

Dodson also says in his ruling the state did not provide district school boards with local control over the decision to reopen.

Kendall Coffey, an attorney for the FEA, said Monday that Dodson’s ruling gives that local control back.

“The opening decision is now in the hands of the school districts, and if in fact the school districts determine, based on their data, as we described, getting the best available local medical expertise on local conditions,” Coffey said in a Zoom press conference following the ruling’s release.

Fedrick Ingram, the teachers union’s president, heralded Dodson’s decision as a victory for educators, families and school support staff. He urged the state not to appeal:

“Mr. Corcoran, Mr. DeSantis, do not spend taxpayers’ money trying to appeal this case. We’re asking you – lets work together, let’s be guided by science. This is not a win where we go and hang our head and beat our chest. People are dying in our state,” Ingram said. “It is out of control that we do not have this virus under wraps.”

But, little over two hours after the ruling came down, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran did announce intent to file an appeal. Corcoran said in a statement he is “100 percent confident” the state will win the lawsuit on appeal.

Corcoran also encouraged families of parents who want to resume in-person learning to call the FEA and tell them to drop the lawsuit, which he calls “frivolous.”

Meanwhile, with the appeal underway, Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the district will go forward with in-person learning at the end of the month. In a statement, Hanna says he welcomes Dodson’s ruling, but in anticipation of the appeal will gear up to welcome back about 15,000 students to campuses.