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Florida teachers union files lawsuit against state over school reopening order

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said Monday it’s filing a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state over their push to reopen Florida’s schools as COVID-19 cases rise.

The FEA lawsuit is one of at least two to have been filed against the state’s plans to reopen schools. Both are asking a judge to intervene and stop schools from reopening in just a few weeks.

The union is calling on DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida State Board of Education, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to “stop the reckless and unsafe reopening of public school campuses as coronavirus infections surge statewide.”

RELATED DOWNLOAD: FEA lawsuit (pdf)

The FEA also launched a petition that says the state’s students must not return to school until steps are taken to reduce the rate of community spread of COVID-19.

“We cannot be reckless with children’s lives,” said Fedrick Ingram, FEA president.

His attorney did not mince words. “The first 21 pages of our lawsuit are a chronicle of horrors,” said Kendall Coffey.

Coffey’s goal is to stop schools from reopening in August, and teachers say it’s the only safe thing to do.

“I, of course, want to go back to teaching but it needs to be safe. There’s no way children can sit in their seat for six hours and wear a mask,” said Stefani Brown Miller, a teacher in Broward County.

The FEA lawsuit argues the state’s directive that schools reopen five days a week is unconstitutional, putting students, teachers and their families at risk of contracting COVID-19.

“What we’re trying to do is keep these kids alive and keep their families alive,” Ingram said.

An Orange County teacher who is pregnant filed a similar lawsuit Sunday. DeSantis was about that one during a Monday press conference.

“I haven’t seen it but I think anyone … if there’s an adult or an instructor who is concerned from a health perspective, I think accommodations need to be made, absolutely,” he said.

DeSantis said opening schools five days a week is about giving parents choices.

“Ultimately, parents need to be free to choose the best environment for their student, for their kids. If that means they prefer distance learning because they’re not comfortable with having kids in school, then that’s their decision as a parent.”

The union said in a survey of its members that 39 percent of teachers said they will not go back to school if they’re forced to be there five days a week.

The FEA lawsuit is seeking for instruction to be held online until it’s deemed safe for in-person instruction.

“Before schools reopen they must have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies, reduced class sizes, social distancing, staffing, and school clinic capabilities in compliance with CDC guidelines and other health authorities,” the lawsuit states.

The Florida Department of Education issued an emergency order July 6 requiring all Florida public school districts to reopen brick and mortar schools as an option for families five days a week.

The School District of Lee County was among districts that were looking at a hybrid model for reopening, in which students would attend in-person classes part of the week and virtual classes on the other days. After the DOE order, districts had to abandon that plan. Most, including Lee County, are now offering several options for returning to school, including in-person classes five days a week or allowing students to learn from home.

The Lee County school superintendent on Monday said he is recommending that the district start date be moved from Aug. 10 to Aug. 24 or 31. The school board will discuss the issue at its Thursday meeting.

With school start dates just weeks away, it isn’t yet known if the judge in either case will fast-track the lawsuits and deliver a ruling by then.

Florida on Monday reported that there have been more than 360,000 known cases of COVID-19 statewide.

Reporter:Taylor Petras
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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