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Bush group weighs in on school reopening fight

FILE - Lockers in a St. Johns County school
FILE - Lockers in a St. Johns County school (WJXT)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An influential education group led by former Gov. Jeb Bush is backing the state in a legal battle about an order requiring school districts to open classrooms for face-to-face instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is chaired by Bush, filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday at the 1st District Court of Appeal supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in the case.

A Leon County circuit judge last month ruled that a July 6 order issued by Corcoran about reopening classrooms was unconstitutional.

The Florida Education Association and the Orange County teachers union have argued that the order violated part of the state Constitution requiring “safe” and “secure” public education.

The state immediately appealed the ruling by Circuit Judge Charles Dodson to the Tallahassee-based appeals court.

In the brief filed Friday, attorneys for the Foundation for Excellence in Education argued, in part, that a “reduction in the availability of in-person instruction at K-12 public schools would lead to declines in the state’s learning gains and create greater disparities in educational achievement for minority, lower-income and learning disabled children.”

It also pointed to the importance of giving parents a choice of whether they want their children to have face-to-face instruction or to learn online. 

“Encouraging school districts to give parents and students a choice to attend an in-class is critical to the success of many Florida students,” said the 29-page brief, written by foundation attorneys Raquel Rodriguez and Jarrett Davis. “The circuit court erred by failing to defer to the appellants (the state officials) in this time of emergency and improperly intruded into a policy judgment of the executive branch.”