TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Education Association announced a lawsuit against the state's emergency order that forces districts to physically reopen public schools five days a week in August, despite concerns from parents and educators regarding the spread of COVID-19.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in state circuit court in Miami against Gov. DeSantis, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida Board of Education and Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez.
The lawsuit contends that ordering a return to on-site instruction at public schools is a violation of Florida’s Constitution and requests a declaration that the state defendants’ actions and inactions are unconstitutional.
The suit also seeks a declaration from the court that the state's demands are "arbitrary and capricious" and seeks to prohibit the enforcement of the order.
The FEA contends the mandate does not allow districts enough time for effective planning, even when it comes to offering distance-learning options.
"As many districts were preparing to implement hybrid education models and online instruction initiatives, just weeks before the start of the school calendar, they now find themselves forced to crowd millions of students into schools where physical distancing, although critical, becomes virtually impossible," the lawsuit reads.
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The state's largest teachers union also launched a petition to Gov. Ron DeSantis that says the state's students must not return to school campuses until steps are taken to reduce the rate of community spread of COVID-19.
"The rate of infection is growing at an alarming pace, yet little is being done to slow the spread and even less is being done to support a SAFE return to our schools," the FEA posted on their Facebook page. "We must demand our governor take all necessary steps to slow the infection rate in our state before our children return to brick and mortar schools."
The Florida Department of Education sent out an emergency order on July 6, issued by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, that requires all Florida Public K-12 school districts to reopen brick and mortar schools as an option for families five days a week.
The order forced school districts to abandon hybrid options, like sending kids in person a few days a week and doing eLearning the remainder of the week, which others around the country are considering.
Within that petition, the Florida Education Association leaders are now asking those concerned about the re-opening of schools to send a letter to Gov. DeSantis. They've created a letter that families can copy and paste.
"Until the community spread is reduced, you must recall the Emergency Order issued by Commissioner Corcoran requiring all school districts to open brick and mortar buildings," it reads in part. "Not only do we question the legality of such an order, we find it irresponsible to silence the voice of constitutionally elected school board members who represent their constituents."
It goes on to say that the CDC has made it clear that there is a high risk for schools to open if the community spread is above a 10% positive test rate.
"Currently, there are more than 300,000 cases reported in Florida and a positive test rate of well over 10%," the letter designed for Gov. DeSantis reads. "There is a 31% positive test rate among children under the age of 18 and the numbers have increased at a staggering rate over the past 30 days."
In addition, the FEA is asking the governor to take "all actions necessary" to reduce community spread to well below 10%.
"We urge you to heed the advice of medical professionals," the letter reads.
Several school districts across the Tampa Bay area have voted to delay the start of the school year by a few weeks after consulting with medical professionals. Hillsborough County Schools recently partnered with USF Health and Tampa General Hospital as a way to track the virus and determine what is best for students and staff.
The Florida Education Association also has a list of what needs to happen once the community spread of COVID-19 is below the 10% target number.
"School districts must have the resources and support to properly and safely reopen brick and mortar buildings," the letter reads.
This includes, in part:
- The ability to keep class sizes small enough for proper social distancing of six feet
- The ability to quickly check temperatures of all students and staff
- The ability to limit access to school campuses to only students and staff
- The ability to reduce the number of students on buses to allow for social distancing
- The ability to have touch-free hand sanitizer stations in every classroom and office, as well as multiple stations in cafeterias and other large common areas, plus refills that are readily available
- The availability of plenty of soap and paper towels
- The ability to sanitize school buses after each route and entire schools every two hours
- The ability to change lunch routines to allow for the proper social distancing of six feet
- The ability to properly train all students and staff on ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
The Florida Education Association has managed to gather nearly 25,000 signatures as of Tuesday, July 21. The goal is to gather 25,600 signatures to send to the governor.