Teachers in Florida are suing the state to block an emergency order requiring schools to open next month with in-person instruction. They say, with the surge of coronavirus cases, the order violates a provision in the Florida Constitution requiring the state to ensure schools are operated safely.
The emergency order, issued this month by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, says all school districts “must open brick and mortar schools at least five days a week for all students.” The order says the final decision on whether to reopen schools rests with local superintendents and school boards. But it suggests funding may depend on it. The districts that submit reopening plans approved by the state will receive full funding.
In a lawsuit filed in Miami, the Florida Education Association, joined by teachers and parents, says the Department of Education order defies recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on reopening schools safely. Besides Corcoran, the lawsuit also names the Florida Board of Education, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez as defendants.
The teachers union says the Florida Constitution requires state officials, “who are charged with overseeing the funding and operations of public education, ensure that our schools operate safely.” Requiring schools to reopen campuses now, the union says, “without the proper plan, resources, and safety precautions will inevitably exacerbate the spread of the virus, jeopardize public health, and ultimately cause longer closures.”
Asked about the lawsuit Monday, DeSantis distanced himself from the emergency order, which has drawn backlash from parents, teachers and school districts since it was issued. “I didn’t give any executive order,” he said. “That was the Department of Education.” The commissioner and six other members of Florida’s Board of Education are all appointed by the governor.
DeSantis has defended the mandate to reopen schools but said it’s intended as a recommendation, not a requirement.
In a statement, Corcoran, the education commissioner, called the lawsuit “frivolous” and “reckless,” saying he believes the teachers union “hasn’t read nor understands” the emergency order.
The order, he said, reiterates a Florida statute that requires schools to operate 180 days a year, which equates to five days a week for 36 weeks. The order, Corcoran said, added online options for “families to have the choice to decide what works best for the health and safety of their student and family.”