Judge Rules Florida School Districts Should Decide If They Reopen

Florida School Districts

A Florida judge ruled Monday that the state’s blanket order requiring all schools to return to the classroom in the fall is unconstitutional.

Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers union, along with several other organizations, filed a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the state alleging reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic was unsafe, reports Click Orlando.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson issued a temporary injunction blocking the emergency order to reopen classrooms for in-person learning. The order, which was issued July 6, required all schools to reopen by the end of August or risk losing state funding. The court’s ruling and injunction means local school boards can “make safety determinations for the reopening of schools without financial penalty,” according to the updated order.

Dodson’s ruling essentially edited the governor’s original order, removing portions that were considered unconstitutional, including the mandate that schools must reopen. Dodson said the ultimate purpose of the order was to provide guidance and permission for schools to reopen and that he worked to preserve those elements.

Dodson wrote in his ruling that Corcoran and DeSantis “have essentially ignored the requirement of school safety by requiring the statewide opening of brick-and-mortar schools to receive already allocated funding.”

While the majority of districts in the state have already reopened in their respective formats, the FEA said the ruling means districts can revisit other plans if needed to ensure the safety of students and teachers without losing state funding.

“What this does is empower our school districts to make right decisions locally. Period. Point blank. And they will do that,” said FEA President Federick Ingram. “We entrust our school board and superintendent and our local school district to make those decisions, and they have been making right decisions.”

During a Zoom news conference Monday, Ingram said the court’s ruling “proves that we do not have safe and secure public schools for our children to learn (and) our teachers to teach,” according to Tampa Bay 10.

Press Secretary Cody McCloud said DeSantis’ office will appeal the ruling and “are confident in our position and in the authority of the Commissioner and the Governor to do what is best for our students.”

Attorneys representing state leaders in favor of the emergency order said 1.6 million Florida students asked to return to in-person learning and the Florida Constitution requires school districts to offer that option.

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