Aug. 27 update: Circuit Judge Charles Dodson lifted the automatic stay on his order granting a temporary injunction against Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s emergency order. School districts are free to make decisions as to whether to open or close schools based on safety considerations and without the threat of lost funding.
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Education Association (FEA) appreciates that Circuit Judge Charles Dodson has granted our motion for a temporary injunction against Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s emergency order. Districts’ hands will not be tied as our lawsuit moves forward to examine the order’s constitutionality.
As demonstrated in his ruling, Circuit Judge Dodson clearly recognizes the magnitude of this case and the importance of protecting students and educators. “Accordingly, our Florida Constitution requires the State to ensure our schools operate safely. Defendants, however, through the Order and its application, have essentially ignored the requirement of school safety by requiring the statewide opening of brick-and-mortar schools to receive already allocated funding,” the judge’s order (PDF, 4 MB) states.
“We appreciate that Judge Dodson acknowledged the crucial importance of protecting the health and wellbeing of kids and school employees. We have seen little sign that is a top priority for the DeSantis administration. Commissioner Corcoran appears more focused on threatening teachers and districts,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. “This is only a temporary injunction, but we plan to press ahead in court. Local communities should have the freedom to make the best decisions for reopening or keeping open local schools. Our districts should not be ruled by reckless edicts from on high. Safety must come before politics.”
The leaders of FEA’s national affiliates spoke out on this victory for students and educators.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:
“This is a remarkable victory. Today, Judge Dodson saw Florida’s unconstitutional executive order for what it was — a cynical edict that put fealty to President Trump over the wellbeing of children and educators. The judge ruled that decisions about reopening should be made locally, not dictated by the state, either directly or through funding decisions. He found for educators who have been trying to keep kids, families and our communities safe since April.
“We agree with the judge that teachers are the foundation of public education and that public school classrooms are the best place for kids, but safety has to come first. Still, it is almost incomprehensible that educators had to go to court to force Governor DeSantis and his education commissioner to comply with the constitution and start caring about the people they’re sworn to serve.
“The good news is this decision, if not appealed, will allow us to work with districts and the community to negotiate a safe reopening based on safety and science, rather than politics. We expect the state to appeal – but make no mistake, if a stay is granted then Gov. DeSantis will be responsible for the mounting toll on the community of his arbitrary and capricious agenda.”
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García:
“Today’s decision by Circuit Judge Charles Dodson to grant FEA’s motion for a temporary injunction against Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s executive order is a victory for students and educators from being forced into unsafe school buildings. Our number one priority is and has always been the health and safety of students, educators and their families. Across the country, schools are struggling to physically reopen safely because of the Trump Administration’s failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their lack of leadership — and kicking the can down to governors to implement an ad hoc patchwork — has created chaos, uncertainty and, frankly, cost lives. Gov. Ron DeSantis, like Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, has shown he has no plan to solve the real issues facing public schools during a pandemic, and the rhetoric out of his administration is appallingly reckless. And the court ruling also acknowledges that school districts should be able to make decisions without the fear of lost funding or other retaliatory actions. We already know that this pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the inequities facing our most vulnerable students, in particular students of color and children living in poverty, and threatening to withhold funding unless school buildings reopen is nothing more than a bullying tactic. Schools need significant funding in order to provide quality distance education, and quality distance learning requires substantial investments. Distance learning means ensuring students receive the meals, technology, and internet connectivity to fully participate in their education like they would in a traditional school day — as well as providing professional development to help educators shift to online or remote instruction. The 3 million members of the National Education Association will continue to fight for the health and safety of students, educators and their families as schools and college campuses return to in-person learning.”
About the suit:
The constitutionality of executive order 2020-EO-06 is the heart of Florida Education Association et al v. Ron DeSantis, as Governor of the State of Florida et al, case number 2020-CA-001450 in the Second Judicial Circuit, Leon County. As mandated by the state’s Constitution, Floridians have a right to “safe” and “secure” public schools.
We do not believe the education commissioner has the legal right to compel districts to open campuses for in-person learning without regard to the health and wellbeing of students and staff, and under the threat of lost funding. The suit seeks to invalidate his emergency order.
It is by no means clear that schools, or the whole of our state, are safe in the midst of this pandemic.
Privately determined and local safety measures, such as businesses requiring masks and individuals choosing to wear masks or simply stay home, have pushed overall positivity rates and case numbers down. The governor needs to step up and show more leadership to protect all Florida residents, especially as we face the possibility of another surge in infections when the weather cools — and as more students and employees pack into our schools.
Right now, the situation is precarious:
- Districts that have opened in Florida are struggling with the coronavirus. We’re seeing cases and quarantines for students and school employees in several counties, with more reports coming in every day.
- Martin County, the most populous Florida county to reopen for in-person learning in the first half of August, has been forced to quarantine nearly 300 students and several educators. From Aug. 5 to Aug. 19, the Covid positivity rate in Martin County was 21 percent for kids under 18.
- Other districts that have opened for in-person instruction and faced immediate problems with cases and quarantines include Seminole, Bradford, Okeechobee, Manatee and Wakulla.
- The statewide 14-day average positivity rate stands at 13.5 percent for children under 18. No Florida county had a pediatric positivity rate under 5 percent as of Aug. 19. Several counties, such as Martin, have rates over 20 percent for children.
- Eight Florida children have died from Covid-19, and nearly 600 have been hospitalized since March 1.
- Overall, more than 10,000 Florida residents have died of the disease.
We believe school boards should be free to ensure that their own schools are safe, whether in opening initially or in closing during a virus outbreak. State officials need to understand that there are restraints on power — Florida’s Constitution must be honored, and the people in our schools must be protected.
CONTACT: Joni Branch, email@example.com, (850) 201-3223
The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with 150,000 members. FEA represents PreK-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational staff professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.