The Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teacher and education worker union, announced Monday it is suing Gov. Ron DeSantis over his order that would force public schools to fully reopen in August.
The lawsuit, filed in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida in Miami, asserts that ordering schools to return to in-person instruction amid an ongoing pandemic is a violation of Florida’s state constitution, which mandates the provision of “safe” and “secure” schools. It also seeks a declaration from the court that the state’s order has put “arbitrary and capricious demands” on public schools.
“Gov. DeSantis needs a reality check, and we are attempting to provide one,” FEA President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement. “Everyone wants schools to reopen, but we don’t want to begin in-person teaching, face an explosion of cases and sickness, then be forced to return to distance learning.”
DeSantis and Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued the emergency order on July 6, requiring school districts to reopen brick-and-mortar schools at least five days a week starting in August, unless local and state health officials direct otherwise. Both DeSantis and Corcoran are named defendants in the lawsuit.
“The Department will consider factors, including but not limited to, the percentage of students in the district who are projected to learn through live synchronous or asynchronous instruction, and the quality of proposed progress monitoring data and efforts to close achievement gaps,” the order states.
Hours after the order was signed, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!”
Several teachers unions in Florida have written to DeSantis over the past weeks, requesting him to allow schools to remain closed until the pandemic is brought down to a less threatening level. In response, the Republican governor said his executive order was simply meant to make sure families to have that education option if they decide in-person learning is best for their children.
“I know a lot of parents [who] have a lot of anxiety about just the situation, generally, and then of course, what’s going to happen with the school year,” DeSantis said during the news conference last week. “For me, I think one of the core principles is your parents need to have the ability to offer the type of learning that they think is important, if they’re comfortable in a distance learning environment, they obviously need to have that choice.”
Florida’s health department on Monday reported 10,347 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 92 additional deaths, bringing the overall confirmed cases in the state to 360,394 and death totals to 5183.