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Florida judge refuses to dismiss school closing case

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A lawsuit brought by Florida’s largest teachers union seeking to keep schools closed is still alive Friday morning.

After hearing arguments from both sides in a virtual hearing, Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association against Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Department of Education and Commissioner Richard Corcoran requiring in-person learning in all 67 counties by the end of August.

The FEA is challenging whether that order is constitutional given that school districts are run by elected boards.

The state argued that not dismissing the case would invalidate the choice of Flordia’s parents who weren’t being represented in court.

“Parents of 1,600,000 students have decided they want to go. Roughly 1,400,000 have decided they don’t want to go,” said David Wells, an attorney with the Gunster law firm hired to represent the state.

There have been more than 8,300 COVID-19 cases in kids under 18 since the beginning of August, with 100 of those requiring hospitalization. The FEA’s attorney told the judge he was facing a life-or-death decision for both students and teachers.

“School districts are being pressured with this zeal to open schools without regard for the continuing expansion of the pandemic,” attorney Ron Meyer said.

“There is a clear and present danger for children and teachers and support staff in our school systems,’ added Jacob Stuart, who represents both parents and teachers in the lawsuit.

Dobson wasted no time in ruing the case would go forward, saying his hands were tied by the procedure but added that, “By denying the motion to dismiss I am not in any way saving the plaintiffs will be successful with their case.”

Dobson ordered mandatory arbitration between the two sides. If they have not reached an agreement by Tuesday afternoon, a trial on the lawsuit will begin Wednesday.

More than a dozen school districts -- including Baker, Bradford, Charlton and Union counties -- opened this week. Another dozen, including Duval County, will open next week. All districts will be open by Aug. 31.


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