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Florida Teachers File Suit Against State Government Over Threatened School Openings

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel

school-1182584_1280On July 20, 2020, the Florida Education Association filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against Florida state governor Ron DeSantis, Florida Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Board of Education and Miami-Dade County Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, alleging that the defendants are violating the Florida state constitution by attempting to recklessly reopen in-person schools in fall 2020.

In the complaint, named plaintiffs and Florida educators Stefanie Beth Miller, Ladara Royal, Mindy Festge, Victoria Dublino-Henjes and Andres Henjes argue that per the Florida state constitution, public schools must only operate on-site schooling if it can be done safely. The plaintiffs point to record-breaking coronavirus infection rates in Florida, including the July 12, 2020 nationwide record of over 15,000 cases diagnosed in just one day as evidence of unsafe conditions in which to operate schools. To bolster their argument, the plaintiffs allege that despite initial suggestions that the virus may not adversely affect young people, children are in fact, at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 and also of developing severe COVID-19 illness that potentially could result in death.

Florida schools instituted online learning on March 17, 2020, when Florida had recorded just 314 cases of COVID-19. However, with new cases rising at an increased pace, the Florida Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, issued Emergency Order No,: 2020-EO-06 with disregard to CDC recommendations, mandating that beginning in August 2020, all school boards and charter school governing bodies must open brick and mortar schools at least five days a week.

The plaintiffs argue that Corcoran’s order is in direct violation of CDC recommendations, which caution that schools should reopen physical locations in three phases. Plaintiffs allege that Miami-Dade has not even entered phase one, which places its threshold at a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period, ICU beds at less than 80% capacity and no ICU staff shortages for at least one week.

Plaintiffs claim the Order exerts undue pressure to physically reopen schools or face a loss of critical funding for public education. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment against Governor DeSantis, Commissioner Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Board of Education, alleging that Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06 undermines school safety and makes arbitrary and capricious demands on public schools in violation of the Florida Constitution. The suit is also seeking injunctive relief.

The case is: Florida Education Association et al. v. DeSantis et al., Case No.: 2020-015211-CA-01, in the Circuit Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida.

 

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