Florida Schools Opening Stopped By Injunction From Judge

A Florida judge ruled against the state’s order requiring schools to open, stating parts of it were “unconstitutional.” He granted a short term injunction, leaving the choice to individual districts to open or not.

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Issued by Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran as an emergency order, the state-mandated that all districts be open five days a week for parents wanting to send their students back, or risk losing allocated funds.

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, filed suit alleging the order violated a provision in Florida’s constitution requiring the state to ensure schools are safe. They were aided in their cause by the NAACP and the NAACP Florida State Conference.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson said the order is “unconstitutional to the extent that it arbitrarily disregards safety, denies local school boards’ decision making with respect to reopening brick and mortar schools, and conditions funding on an approved reopening plan with a start date in August.”

The Florida Department of Education said they appealed the decision. This automatically placed a stay on the judge’s order, blocking its taking effect until the appeal is over.  

Richard Corcoran said he is “100% confident” the state will win the suit. “This fight has been, and will continue to be, about giving every parent, every teacher and every student a choice, regardless of what educational option they choose,” Corcoran said. 

Corcoran defended the state’s aggressive approach to reopening schools, saying transmission rates have dropped significantly.

Dodson wrote that while it is not entirely clear to what extent children transmit the virus to adults, “what has been clearly established is there is no easy decision and opening schools will most likely increase COVID-19 cases in Florida.” He added that the order did not take into consideration community transmission rates, the varying ages of students, or proper precautions.

The state just allowed three South Florida counties hard-hit by COVID-19, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach, to begin the year with distance learning.

Before the appeal was announced, educators and legal experts said the injunction would allow schools to make their own decisions about remaining open, moving to virtual learning, or further delaying opening based on local conditions without having to submit a plan for state approval.