Hillsborough County teacher testifies in day-2 of FEA case against state

Testimony wrapped up Thursday in a court case between the largest teacher's union in Florida and state officials over the reopening plan for schools.

The Florida Education Association's lawsuit aims to halt education commissioner Richard Corcoran's emergency order that requires districts to reopen all schools.

During the second day of the case, the judge heard testimony from parents, teachers, Florida education leaders, and doctors who were speaking on behalf of the state's position.

The FEA is against an emergency order by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran requiring schools to reopen five days a week in August.

The union's attorneys argue the order is unconstitutional and doesn't guarantee Floridians the right to “safe” and “secure” public schools. The Orange County teachers union filed a similar legal complaint, and Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson consolidated the cases.

School districts that don’t comply with Corcoran’s order face a financial hit, a move Florida Education Association lawyer Kendall Coffey called “financial bullying.”

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Corcoran’s order requires brick-and-mortar schools outside of South Florida to reopen unless state and health officials say otherwise.

But county health administrators, who work for the Florida Department of Health, said they were advised by their state bosses not to tell school district leaders whether or not to resume in-person instruction, testimony during Wednesday’s hearing showed.

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During Wednesday's hearing, the first day of testimony, the situation in Hillsborough County's school district played a major role.

School board member Tamara Shamburger was the first to testify. She said her district listened to advice from medical experts when they voted to start school online for four weeks, but then had to back-pedal when the state threatened to pull funding.

"I know that being out of the classroom may be a struggle for some, but I have faith that we have here in Hillsborough County to get those students back where they need to be," she said during the hearing. "But what they can't restore is a loss of life."

The state maintains that keeping school campuses closed will do more harm than good.

"Any opening of the schools will bring about some type of risk," said David Wells, attorney for the state of Florida. "The greater risk is the closing of the schools."

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Wells argued that the emergency order doesn't require students to return to campus.

“There is no student who is being forced back to school. These students are going back because they want to and because their parents want them to. There is no teacher that is being forced to go back to school,” he said Wednesday.

Testimony is set to resume Friday morning. The judge is expected to issue a ruling early next week.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.