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FEA: The fight continues for safety and local control

TALLAHASSEE — The 1st District Court of Appeal got it wrong today with its ruling on the Florida Education Association (FEA) lawsuit, but our educators continue to stand on the side of right — and that is why we will immediately file for a rehearing of this case. Let there be no doubt that FEA members will keep fighting for students and educators in our public schools — whether that means contesting an unconstitutional, overreaching emergency order or prying important Covid-19 information out of state authorities.

“The lower court got this case right, and the appellate court got it wrong. That’s why we will appeal this misguided ruling,” said FEA President Andrew Spar. “This case was never about forcing schools to close. It was about safe schools and local control. Educators pushed back against state bullying and won a significant victory in the lower court. We also brought state and national attention to the needs of our public schools, caused districts to take a hard look at how they reopened, and helped shine a spotlight on the DeSantis administration’s attempts to hide important health information from parents and educators. We will continue our fight for all the people in Florida’s public schools.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “The appellate judges turned this into a political issue, rather than a safety issue — and that’s why we’re filing a motion for rehearing. The lower court, after hearing the facts, sided with teachers and parents on two previous occasions, but the appellate court didn’t even hold oral arguments before making its decision.

“Florida educators will continue to explain the troubling facts on the ground in a state where virus spread is again increasing and how the governor, presumably because of his loyalty to President Trump, continues to put communities in harm’s way. As long as Covid deniers hold political office, they will continue to endanger the public — but we will hold them accountable in court, and at the ballot box on November 3.”

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal essentially ran out the clock on the FEA lawsuit, waiting until all Florida districts reopened physical campuses. However, the issues of local control and safety for all of the people in our schools, remain to be fully addressed. The FEA continues to explore next steps in regard to the case, and plans to request a hearing by the full appellate court.

Florida Education Association et al v. Ron DeSantis, as Governor of the State of Florida et al initially was filed July 20 in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, Miami-Dade County. The suit asserts that emergency order 2020-EO-06, issued by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, is counter to Florida’s Constitution. By law, Floridians have a right to “safe” and “secure” public schools. The emergency order mandated, under threat of lost funding, a return to in-person learning in August without regard for the health and wellbeing of the people in our schools.

The lawsuit was moved to the 2nd Judicial Circuit, Leon County, where Circuit Judge Charles Dodson handed educators a great legal victory on Aug. 24, granting the FEA motion for a temporary injunction against the commissioner’s emergency order.

Circuit Judge Dodson clearly recognized the magnitude of the case and the importance of protecting students and educators from an overreaching state Department of Education. The judge’s order states: “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.”

A stay was subsequently imposed on the temporary injunction, and the state filed an appeal of Judge Dodson’s ruling with the 1st District Court of Appeal. That court today reversed the lower court’s order and vacated the temporary injunction.

In districts statewide, the struggle to deal with Covid-19 in our public schools continues, as do efforts to suppress information.

The FEA is collecting information about Covid in schools here: https://feaweb.org/covid19/fea-safe-schools-report/

CONTACT: Joni Branch, joni.branch@floridaea.org

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.

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