The mandate to reopen schools across Florida will remain in effect after an appeals court ruled on Monday in favor of state education officials, as multiple lawsuits challenging the order’s constitutionality move forward.
Florida’s First District Court of Appeal imposed a stay on an earlier ruling from a county circuit judge, who issued a temporary injunction against an emergency order that required the state’s public schools to offer “brick and mortar” classes five days per week. The Florida Education Association, which brought the lawsuit, argued that the order violates the Florida Constitution’s guarantee of “safe” and “secure” public schools by forcing students and teachers back into classrooms amid the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
“The Emergency Order does not compel any student to choose in-person instruction or attend a brick-and-mortar school. Rather, students and parents are free to choose a brick-and-mortar school for in-person instruction,” the appeal court judges wrote in their opinion (pdf), emphasizing the fact that by the time the circuit judge issued his ruling last week, some 711,000 students had chosen to return to school for in-person classes.
“As to school districts, none have been ‘forced’ under the Emergency Order to offer in-person instruction for students,” the judges continued. “It is left to the individual school districts to determine whether offering in-person instruction poses risks to the welfare and safety of their students, teachers, and school personnel.”
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who signed the reopening order (pdf) in early July, said on Monday during an education roundtable event that he welcomed the ruling. He also noted that 1.6 million students across the state, or 60 percent, are now back to in-person-learning, not including the 18 districts that are opening this week.
“That’s the whole point of what the governor laid out,” said Corcoran. “Parental choice works, and we know that we can provide that education. Whether it is face-to-face, whether it is distance learning, we can provide it for those parents who want that choice, and they’re going to have good outcomes, and we can do it in a safe manner.”
Corcoran was joined by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Scott Atlas, a top medical adviser to President Donald Trump. Atlas said that evidence is “incontrovertible” that children are at very low risk from the COVID-19, and do not transmit the illness as much as adults do.
“We can’t panic. There’s no place for fear in public policy,” said Atlas. “The children are not at any significant risk, although there are exceptions. But the exceptions, of course, exist in every medical illness. If you are a doctor you understand that, they do not overwhelm the rest of the evidence.”