Judge blocks order requiring Florida schools to reopen

Southeast

The state’s largest teachers union said in a lawsuit that the order put lives at risk.

TAMPA, FL – AUGUST 21: Valerie Bing (L) walks with her daughter Gianna Jenkins after picking up a laptop for remote learning to use for the day of classes at Hillsborough High School next Monday on August 21, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. Hillsborough County Schools are issuing one device per family for students who are doing remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NewsNation) — A Florida judge has sided with teachers in a lawsuit that was filed over the reopening of schools in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The judge temporarily blocked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and top education officials from forcing public schools to reopen brick-and-mortar classrooms, ruling that the state’s order “arbitrarily disregards safety.”

The state’s largest teachers union said in a lawsuit that the order put lives at risk.

The Florida Education Association had sued the state after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an order earlier this summer mandating that schools reopen classrooms by Aug. 31 or risk losing funding.

“The districts have no meaningful alternative,” the judge wrote in his opinion.

“If an individual school district chooses safety, that is, delaying the start of schools until it individually determines it is safe to do so for its county, it risks losing state funding, even though every student is being taught,” he ruled.

State officials were reviewing the ruling and did not have an immediate comment.

The Florida Education Association tweeted after the judge made the decision Monday saying, in part, “Districts’ hands will not be tied as we continue the fight to protect students and educators in our public schools.”

The state had said reopening decisions were supposed to be made with advice from local health officials. But, throughout the trial, Department of Health officials repeatedly said they would not advise schools whether it is safe to reopen.

The decision from Judge Dodson came on the same day students in Hillsborough County Public Schools returned to learning virtually. The district had voted to start school with four weeks of distance learning, but the state intervened. The district eventually settled on just one week of learning online.

It’s not clear yet how Monday’s ruling could impact plans in Hillsborough County or in other counties across the state.

As the outbreak began spreading across Florida last spring, state officials shuttered schools and teachers began providing instruction virtually to the state’s 2.9 million public school students.

NewsNation affiliate WFLA and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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