The Florida Education Association, a teachers union representing about 140,000 school employees, filed a lawsuit Monday against several state leaders, including Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, in an effort to stop schools from reopening for in-person instruction.
Earlier this month, Corcoran issued an executive order requiring that all schools open in August for five days a week for families who want their children to attend in-person classes, even as COVID-19 cases in the state continue to surge. Families have the option of participating in remote learning if they prefer.
By forcing schools to reopen and teachers to return to the classroom, the state is failing to provide a safe and secure environment as required in the constitution, says the lawsuit, which also names the state Department of Education, Board of Education and the mayor of Miami-Dade County as defendants. The state’s constitution mandates “[a]dequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.”
“Reopening schools in the middle of a COVID-19 resurgence, and without the proper plan, resources, and safety precautions will inevitably exacerbate the spread of the virus, jeopardize public health, and ultimately cause longer closures,” says the lawsuit.
The lawsuit comes after President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have spent the last few weeks pressuring schools to reopen for in-person classes. Major school districts, like the one in Los Angeles, have already announced they will begin the school year online. Other districts, including New York City, are providing in-person instruction one to three days a week.
Even though Florida families will be given an option of whether to attend school in person or online, staff will still have to report to the building to keep it operational, putting their health and the health of the students they serve at risk. The lawsuit also says that districts do not have the funds to implement proper safety precautions.
No one wants to be back in the classroom with students more than educators, but we must do so only if we can ensure it is done in a safe way.
Lily Eskelsen García, National Education Association president
Meanwhile, some district education funding is contingent upon school reopening, putting an arbitrary and capricious demand on schools, says the lawsuit.
The nation’s two major teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, support the lawsuit.
“No one wants to be back in the classroom with students more than educators, but we must do so only if we can ensure it is done in a safe way. Unfortunately, Gov. Ron DeSantis, like Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, has no plan to solve the real issues facing public schools during a pandemic, and that’s a major concern to students, educators and parents,” says a statement on the suit from NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
The Florida Department of Education has pushed back on the lawsuit, saying that a Florida statute already requires schools to operate 180 days a year.
“This [executive 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,” says a statement from Corcoran. “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.”
A new HuffPost/YouGov poll found that just 19% of Americans think schools should fully reopen in the fall. A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says that schools should prioritize in-person learning while balancing safety concerns but not without a huge influx of state and federal funding to implement precautionary measures.
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