Teachers sue to block school reopening mandate

Published: Jul. 20, 2020 at 6:13 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - A lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, is seeking to prevent Florida schools from reopening next month.

The suit alleges schools won’t be able to provide the protections needed to conduct in-person classes safely, violating the state constitution.

“We must have a safe school system. That is written in the Florida Constitution,” said President of the Florida Education Association Fedrick Ingram.

Named in the suit are multiple educators who are at risk for serious complications with COVID-19.

“I stand up for myself, an African American male with asthma and an autoimmune deficiency,” said plaintiff and Orange County teacher Ladara Royal. “I would never imagine while answering the divine call of being an educator to one day place my life in jeopardy and at risk.”

The suit comes after the Florida Department of Education issued an emergency order requiring schools to provide in-person learning starting in August.

The governor shed some light on the scope of the order in a news conference last Wednesday.

“It should not be dictated by the Department of Education, I think they can recommend,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

But he doubled down on the need for parents to have options.

“You know if you have a school district that’s offering the in-person instruction, which many parents think is very important, if you have parents that aren’t comfortable with that, that they have the ability to opt for distance learning,” said DeSantis.

The Florida Education Association said the suit doesn’t seek to overturn local reopening plans, only the statewide mandate for all schools to return to the classroom.

A recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics has been one of the driving forces behind the push to reopen, but the Academy has since walked back its recommendation, urging science to come before politics, but teachers don’t believe the science supports reopening classrooms.

“If you do this wrong, the school becomes the germ factory,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association.

The Florida Education Association is also circulating an online petition to delay school reopening. So far it has collected more than 20,000 signatures.