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Pasco County school employee union seeks injunction over in-person classes

Posted at 2:43 PM, Aug 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-12 18:06:27-04

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — A Pasco County school employee is suing to stop in-person classes until it's safe.

United School Employees of Pasco (USEP) President Don Peace said they filed for an injunction, which he says would allow all virtual reopening of schools in Pasco County.

“Safety and common sense should prevail in this situation,” said Peace. “We are just asking for some time to let the numbers come down to a satisfactory level as per the CDC guidelines. Lives of students and employees are at risk.”

Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning, Board Chair Colleen Beaudoin and the Pasco County School Board are named in the suit.

In the complaint, it says “forcing schools to open classes for live and in-person classes would cause irreparable harm and is a violation of Article IX1(a) of the FL Constitution that mandates safe and secure public schools.”

The complaint reads it isn’t possible now, or in the foreseeable future, for the county to open public schools to live and in-person classrooms and comply with the standards set by the state’s constitution.

The complaint says without an injunction, the "Plaintiff will be irreparably harmed by the Defendants’ actions because the data and research show that children will be attacked by COVID-19 and many will suffer serious illness, to include death to some students.”

It also states that teachers will need to choose between resigning or return to their jobs and face the risks of COVID-19.

The complaint reads USEP is seeking a declaration that its constitutional rights have or will be violated by the state and county and for an order to prevent the Pasco County School Board from beginning in-person and live classes until it’s safe to do so.

Below is the full complaint:

“We have asked for a virtual re-opening until such time as Pasco County can meet the CDC recommendations of a 14-day downward trend in positive test cases and a district-wide percentage of test cases of five percent or less,” said Peace.

Peace noted the current emergency order, which requires schools to open brick and mortar at least five days a week. Peace pointed to Hillsborough County Schools, which chose to go online only for the first four weeks of school after hearing advice from medical experts.

“They were basically told, ‘you’re on your own. You can make those decisions, but if you want money, this is how you got to do it,'” said Peace. “We have said at several board meetings and publicly that we feel that Richard Corcoran, the Department of Education commissioner, has overstepped his authority. We feel that the elected officials in all 67 counties are the best people to make the determination when and how to return to schools, and that’s why we’re acting on this.”

Pasco County Schools teacher Jeremy Blythe is scared most of bringing the virus home to his family. He referenced districts in other states that have opened and already face issues with COVID-19.

“We’re going to open up, it’s going to be a week or two, and we’re going to be down because we have an explosion of cases,” said Blythe. “It just feels like why are we pushing so hard to do something that we know is so inevitably going to go the other way?”

A Pasco County Schools spokesperson told us they do not have a comment on pending litigation. Pasco County School teachers are set to return Monday, August 17, while students go back to the classroom a week later on August 24.