Hearing scheduled for teachers association lawsuit against state over forcing schools to reopen

Teachers and state officials returned to the virtual courtroom Friday morning, and the judge proceeding over the case denied the motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Florida's largest teacher's association.

Instead, Circuit Judge Dodge is urging both sides to work out a deal, saying if they can't work it out, there will be a hearing on an injunction request next week.

"I'm not in any way saying that the plaintiffs are going to be successful in their case," he said, according to the News Service of Florida.

Dodson scheduled a two-day hearing that would start Wednesday. That’s when the FEA would get a chance to present arguments for a temporary injunction on the executive order.

Before that starts, Dodson has ordered mediation to try to get the two sides to reach a compromise.

Because some schools have already reopened and the rest are being are scheduled to reopen in the next two weeks, the union has asked for an expedited trial.

The lawsuit centers around the state’s mandate that brick and mortar schools reopen by August 31 or risk losing funding. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran  issued the emergency order on July 6.

The Florida Education Association argues that requirement is unconstitutional and forces schools to jeopardize the health and safety of students by opening during a pandemic.

The FEA suit doesn’t ask that brick-and-mortar schools remain closed, but rather that individual school districts be given the ability to choose for themselves whether or not it’s safe to reopen. They also said funding should not be at stake if districts choose to start school virtually.

RELATED: After state threatens funding, Hillsborough plans only one week of all-online classes

The state, meanwhile, argues that students have a constitutional right to a quality education and that keeping schools shut down violates state law.

"I find it kind of strange that in the spring, when this pandemic was barely unfolding and we were talking about very limited and low transmission rates and very limited and low instances of COVID infection, the state absolutely saw fit to continue funding distant-learning opportunities through the public schools of this state in a manner that didn't diminish funding, didn't put children at risk, didn't put staff at risk," said Ron Meyers, FEA's lawyer.

In Hillsborough County, Superintendent Addison Davis announced Thursday all students will begin classes online for one week. Then, the district will reopen for in-person learning.

The change was made after the state said millions of dollars were on the line if schools remained closed.