Florida’s largest teachers union sued Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday to overturn an emergency order requiring schools to offer in-person instruction five days a week next month, even as cases of COVID-19 surge in the state.
In the suit, filed in circuit court in Miami-Dade county, the Florida Education Association accuses the governor and several other defendants, including state education commissioner Richard Corcoran, the state Education Department and the State Board of Education, of violating a state constitutional mandate to keep public schools “safe and secure”
Florida Education Association president Fedrick Ingram said the governor “needs a reality check, and we are attempting to provide one” in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“The governor needs to accept the reality of the situation here in Florida, where the virus is surging out of control,” Ingram added.
The state has become one of the nation’s latest virus hotspots, with 10,347 new cases and 90 additional deaths on Monday alone, bringing totals in the state to 360,394 cases and 5,072 since the virus first hit.
DeSantis had recommended that all Florida schools reopen at full capacity next month, saying that if schools remained closed, parents would be unable to return to work. The governor has begun to walk back the July 6th order in recent days, saying on Monday that the mandate wasn’t his idea.
“I didn’t give any executive order, that was the Department of Education,” DeSantis said.
In the order issued earlier this month, Corcoran said schools were “not just the site of academic learning” but also provided important services such as nutrition, socialization, counseling and extracurricular activities.
In response to the suit, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education said in a statement that the FEA “hasn’t read nor understands” the emergency order. Spokesperson Taryn Fenske asserted that the order doesn’t issue new directives requiring school to open, but reiterates Florida’s law calling for campuses to operate 180 days a year.
Fenske criticized the suit, saying that the order creates guaranteed funding for districts and schools to educate in innovative ways given that they provide all students with an education regardless of what learning option they choose.
“The FEA frequently states that schools are underfunded, and if this frivolous, reckless lawsuit, succeeds it will eliminate these funding guarantees — completely contradicting their normal outcry,” Fenske wrote.