The Florida Teacher’s Union Filed a Lawsuit Monday Against State Leaders saying that their mandate to reopen all schools violates the state’s constitution, calling the order “arbitrary, dangerous and unconstitutional.”
According to the Florida Education Association’s claims in the lawsuit, plaintiffs accuse Gov. Ron Desantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, The Florida Department of Education, The Florida Board of Education and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez of disregarding CDC guidelines for schools to safely reopen amidst the coronavirus pandemic, where Florida is the current epicenter of the outbreak.
The lawsuit says, “without a rational basis for ignoring the CDC guidelines, the State Government Defendants are requiring millions of public school employees and students to physically return to brick and mortar schools in August amidst a drastic resurgence of COVID-19 cases. Defendants, Governor DeSantis, Commissioner Corcoran, Department of Education, and Board of Education’s arbitrary, dangerous, and unconstitutional actions in the midst of the pandemic create an imminent threat to the public health, safety and welfare.”
On July 6 Cocoran issued an emergency order saying every school in the state had to be open five days a week citing school’s importance to student development and education, saying “extended school closures can impede the educational success of students…schools are not just the site of academic learning; schools provide many services to students that are critical to the well-being of students and families, such as nutrition, socialization, counseling, and extra-curricular activities,” his order says.
It also emphasized the importance of kids’ going to school because of overriding economic issues, saying school closures can “impact families’ well-being” because if schools are not physically open it can “limit many parents and guardians from returning to work.”
According to the plaintiffs though, the most pressing issue from the standpoint of teachers and families is the preservation of the health of students and faculty and the people they live with, which they say the defendants are not taking into account.
The lawsuit is seeking an injunction to stop state leaders from forcing “millions of public school students and employees to report to brick and mortar schools that should remain closed during the resurgence of COVID-19 cases pursuant to the CDC and other federal guidelines as well as the overwhelming opinion of medical and epidemiological experts. It is particularly arbitrary and harmful when reasonable alternatives exist under these extraordinary circumstances for remote online instruction allowing for the protection of children, teachers and other education professionals, family members, and the community generally,” according to the complaint.
The Plaintiffs Include a Teacher Who Spent 2 Months in the Hosptial with COVID-19 & Is Still In Need of Occupational & Speech Therapy
Besides the FEA being a plaintiff, three teachers and a set of parents are also named in the complaint.
Stephanie Beth Miller, a second-grade teacher in Broward County spent 21 days of her two months stay in the hospital on a ventilator in a medically induced coma when she had COVID-19. According to court documents, she is still in occupational and speech therapy.
Another plaintiff is Ladara Royal, an African-American middle school teacher in Orange County who has Asthma and an Auto-Immune disorder. The complaint says because of race disparities in those who are hit hardest by the virus, she is at an even higher risk in the classroom setting.
A 28-year veteran educator in Miami-Dade, Mindy Festge, has a son who will be a high school senior this year who is high-risk due to a chronic-digestive disorder and decreased immunity. A set of parents in Pinellas County, Victoria Dublino-Henjes and Andres Henjes, are suing because they have two elementary-aged children with respiratory issues that they say make them a higher risk to complications from coronavirus.
None of these plaintiffs want to put themselves or their families at risk for the virus by going to schools where they say the CDC guidelines will not be followed.
“In-person instruction requires prolonged close indoor contact between students and school employees,” the complaint says. “There is currently no ability to provide for adequate physical distancing, PPE use, hygiene practices, contact tracing, and other safety measure required by the federal, state, county, and CDC guidelines to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.”
Another issue, according to the complaint, is the idea that children are not very susceptible to COVID-19. They say just because kids aren’t as badly affected as a demographic by the virus, it doesn’t mean that they are fully immune.
“Contrary to initial suggestions, children are at risk of contracting and spreading the virus, and of developing severe illness resulting in death,” the complaint says. “As of July 9, 2020, the Florida Department of Health reported over 17,000 cases in children under 18 years old, 213 hospitalizations, and 4 deaths. The harsh reality is that Florida had a 31% positivity test rate among children as of last week.”
The claim says the “Plaintiffs have a clear legal right to be free from significant threats to public health, including outbreaks of infectious diseases.” They say it should be left up to the districts where elected officials can make the best decisions for their county rather than a sweeping mandate that does not take into account how bad the virus is in a particular area.
While the Department of Health For Each District Can Make the Call to Close Schools, The Lawsuit Alleges Palm Beach County’s Health Director Was Told To ‘Keep Her Mouth Shut’ When She Said She Thought It Was Unsafe to Open That County’s Schools
In the directives to open all schools, the one caveat was that the Department of Health can make the call to close schools if they deem it unsafe due to the rate of COVID-19 infections in their county, yet WPTV reported that Dr. Alina Alonso, the Palm Beach County Health Director said schools in that county shouldn’t reopen yet while the virus is surging and the community is phase 1 of reopening, and she got a call from Tallahassee.
The lawsuit cited the news report, which said at a recent Palm Beach school board meeting, Chairman, Frank Barbieri said Alonso “got a call from the surgeon general of the state of Florida that told her to keep her mouth shut and not speak about it. Not only did she get the call, but the other health directors from around the state got the same call that they should not get involved with the school districts’ decisions on whether or not to reopen schools,” WPTV reported.
Heavy is waiting for a reply from the Florida Department of Health to confirm this accusation and for any information on whether they’ll close any schools due to high numbers COVID-19 cases.
The Lawsuit Says The Mandate For All Schools To Reopen Ignores Science & Data From the Areas Hardest Hit
While the plaintiffs acknowledge the importance of going to school, they accuse state leaders of ignoring the science & data that shows some counties are so infiltrated with coronavirus that opening schools as soon as next month is unsafe.
“Importantly, the Emergency Order fails to consider unique local circumstances, resources, and health data, as required by health experts,” the lawsuit says. “While it might be safe to reopen in some districts across the state, it is not safe to physically open schools in others, including Miami-Dade County and other crisis areas of Florida including counties like Broward, Palm Beach, and Orange County. Science and data must drive those decisions.”
Gov. DeSantis has said that his reluctance to issue mandates like stay-at-home orders across the entire state is because all areas are not being affected the same.
In March he said, “There are some parts of the country that are in far deeper trouble than others,” he said. “There are other parts that, frankly, are not in trouble at all,” according to USA Today. He also said he’d leave a directive to wear masks up to local leaders.
Yet when it comes to schools opening, the mandate from the state is clear. All schools in Florida must open their doors to students regardless of how the virus is affecting their counties.