LEON COUNTY, Fla. — A judge in Leon County ruled in teachers' favor in a lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association (FEA) against the state's emergency order that forces districts to physically reopen public schools five days a week.
Judge Charles Dodson granted the association's motion for a temporary order against Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran's executive order on reopening brick-and-mortar schools for the 2020-2021 academic year.
Dodson said in a court document that his ruling will allow "local school boards to make safety determinations for the reopening of schools without financial penalty."
"This is what the local school boards were elected to do," Dodson said in a court document. "There is simply no adequate remedy at law available to Plaintiffs under these circumstances. They will suffer irreparable harm."
Dodson went onto say that Corcoran's executive order is unconstitutional.
"The Order is unconstitutional to the extent it arbitrarily disregards safety, denies local school boards decision making with respect to reopening brick and mortar schools, and conditions funding on an approved reopening plan with a start date in August," he said in a court document.
Below is more information on the judge's ruling:
"This lawsuit proves that we do not have safe and secure public schools for our children to learn or our teachers to teach and for us to have a way forward through this pandemic," said FEA president, Fedrick Ingram, adding teachers want to teach but don't want to risk lives.
Following the judge's ruling on Monday, Corcoran issued a statement saying he will appeal the case. He vowed the state will win the lawsuit.
Below is a statement issued by the education commissioner:
“We’ve said it all along, and we will say it one million times – we are 100% confident we will win this lawsuit. This fight has been, and will continue to be, about giving every parent, every teacher and every student a choice, regardless of what educational option they choose. If you are one of the 1.6 million students who have chosen to return to the classroom, a parent, or a classroom teacher that wanted to educate their student in person, we strongly encourage you to call the Florida Education Association and tell them to drop this frivolous lawsuit."
Attorney Ronald Meyer said Corcoran has "no reason" to appeal Monday's ruling.
"School safety is a paramount duty of the state of Florida. The department of education really ought to say enough’s enough and take us up on our opportunity to talk," said Meyer during a news conference hosted by the FEA."We’ve offered and spent a day mediating previously, that’s still on the table. We should resolve these issues. We shouldn’t be just spending resources fighting one another when what’s hanging in the balance is the safety of children and staff."
- Judge denies motion to dismiss school re-opening lawsuit, case moves forward
- Florida Education Association lawsuit to halt school reopening slowed by venue change
- Emergency motion filed to allow districts to delay opening schools until COVID-19 cases decline
- Florida Education Association files lawsuit against state to stop reopening of in-person classes
In July, Corcoran put out an order mandating districts list in-person learning, five days a week as an option for parents during their reopening plans.
The suit filed by the largest teachers union, which now includes the NAACP and the NAACP Florida State Conference, educators and parents, asks to allow local districts to make decisions on reopening plans without the threat of funds being withheld by the state.
"We do not believe the education commissioner has the legal right to compel districts to open campuses for in-person learning without regard to the health and wellbeing of students and staff. The suit seeks to invalidate his emergency order."
Corcoran's order threw a wrench in how the Hillsborough County Public Schools planned to move forward with the 2020-2021 school year. The school board initially announced the first four weeks would be virtual, and Superintendent Addison Davis had to meet with the Department of Education and revised the plan to one week of virtual learning.
Davis also revealed the decision to stick with the original four-week virtual plan could've resulted in the district going bankrupt. Hillsborough County Schools would have incurred more than $200 million in penalties.
Hillsborough County Public Schools released the following statement after Monday's ruling in court:
"We are reviewing the order and its implications for our district. There is a chance the order will be appealed and we will continue to monitor the progress of the lawsuit. We anticipate the School Board will discuss this tomorrow but no vote is expected at tomorrow’s meeting."
The Hillsborough County school board planned briefly discussed the ruling during a 9:30 a.m. workshop on Tuesday, where members said they would continue to monitor the progress of the
lawsuit and appeal.
The school board meets again Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m.
Some parents weren't surprised to see the judge's ruling.
"I think it’s the right decision to do because each area is so unique in terms of cases and what’s going on in the communities," said parent Jessica Edlund.
She said she chose e-learning for her three children.
"We all want what’s best for students. You know, the children, families, but we have to do what’s best for everyone at this point," she said.
Other parents, like Jennifer Rogers, have chosen the district's brick-and-mortar option. Rogers said her son is in the ESE program. While she is pro-brick and mortar, she said she's happy to see the ruling, calling the state's response "bullying."
"There’s too many extenuating circumstances that can impact a quarter of a million people. And I think what the county has elected to do by offering three options, in person, versus distant or virtual, is meeting and making the best out of a stalemate on both sides," Rogers said.
Meanwhile, other districts are also watching the ruling. Pasco County said it doesn't change their plans, though they are keeping an eye. Pinellas County didn't have a comment just yet.
ABC Action News is checking in with other school districts and will update any changes.