TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Education Association has called on the governor, state legislators, and the Board of Education to remove the requirement that districts reopen school buildings next month. On Monday, they raised the stakes by announcing new litigation.
The FEA said the current COVID-19 case rates in Florida make reopening brick-and-mortar schools unsafe for students and staff.
“We’ve got to put them first," FEA president Frederick Ingram said on Fox News on Sunday. "We’ve got to put their health and safety first and then we’ll deal with the academic regression. What I want parents to know is that when we get our kids back, our teachers are going to do the magic that they always do within our public schools.”
The union held a virtual press conference Monday at 1 p.m. to discuss litigation regarding the state’s emergency order requiring all school districts to reopen their schools five days a week starting in August.
The attorneys involved in this believe ordering schools to reopen during -- not just a pandemic -- but a surge in cases violates the Florida constitution.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs cite the part of the Florida constitution that, "requires state entities and public officials...to ensure that our schools operate safely."
The teachers at the center of this lawsuit believe they are being forced into an unsafe situation.
Earlier this month, state education commissioner Richard Corcoran Issued an emergency order. It requires all schools in Florida to be open five days a week.
In the lawsuit, attorneys say, "arbitrary, dangerous, and unconstitutional actions in the midst of the pandemic create an imminent threat to the public health, safety and welfare.”
They are asking a judge to halt the order and allow districts to decide individually what's best for them. The lawsuit also takes issue with the state threatening to withhold funding from districts that do not fully comply with the order.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that, "pits students and safety against vitally needed funds for schools."
Last week, Corcoran was urged by a Florida school board member to eliminate this mandate but he said he has no plans to do that.
Corcoran feels it is in the best interest of the students and their families to give them the choice to learn in person.
A parent and teacher in Orange County have also filed a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis. The suit claims schools lack the space to allow for social distancing, and staff and teachers haven’t been provided with enough guidance or resources to keep students and staff safe.
An FEA petition calling on DeSantis to delay reopening school campuses generated more than 16,000 signatures as of Monday morning. The petition can be viewed here.
The FEA said, per CDC guidelines, schools shouldn’t bring students back in until case rates fall below 10%.
“I don’t think that our schools are ready to reopen given our circumstances,” said Ingram. “We have 23,000 kids under the age of 18 who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. We had over 12,000 cases today, we had 10,000 cases yesterday and were still on an incline trend."
"Here, in the state of Florida," she added, "we find ourselves in the epicenter of what’s going on with this virus. Until we understand that our schools will not be super spreader events, we have got to get rid of this hell or high water approach to opening up our brick-and-mortar schools. We’re simply not ready for in-person teaching if we had to open schools tomorrow.”
The union is also demanding that the state to create a better standard for safety and cleaning protocols for when schools do reopen.
The FEA’s demands to slow-roll the reopening of in-person classes are echoed by the state’s top pediatrician as well.
In an interview with FOX 35, Dr. D. Paul Robinson, president of the Florida Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, said schools shouldn’t bring students back five days a week until COVID-19 case rates drop to the three to 5% range for at least two consecutive weeks.
“I think no one, at least in medicine, believes that it’s safe to go back if we have a rolling average of 14.6% in the state,” said Dr. Robinson. ”What we’re concerned about is that we know that if we start schools when there is a high infection rate, more people are going to get infected and that more schools are going to shut down within just a few weeks.”