Florida’s largest teachers union sues state over school reopening order

VIDEO: The Sunshine State’s largest teacher and education worker union, the Florida Education Association (FEA), announced legal action against the state of Florida over the education commissioner’s order to open school buildings five days a week in August.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Sunshine State’s largest teacher and education worker union, the Florida Education Association (FEA), announced legal action against the state of Florida on Monday over the education commissioner’s order to open school buildings five days a week in August.

FEA president Fedrick Ingram said a lawsuit was filed in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida in Miami and seeks to overturn the emergency order filed by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran earlier this month.

Ingram said Monday during a virtual press conference that school reopening decisions are best made at the local level. He called the emergency order reckless and unconstitutional.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has supported the decision to reopen schools five days a week since the beginning, noting President Donald Trump also wanted schools reopened in the fall.

DeSantis reiterated his belief that schools should reopen during a press conference on Monday, saying school environments give students a better opportunity to learn and better access to healthy meals, among other benefits.

DeSantis, Corcoran, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez are all named in the lawsuit.

Corcoran responded to the lawsuit Monday.

“Clearly the FEA hasn’t read nor understands the Florida Department of Education’s guidance, the Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06, or Florida law,” Corcoran said in an emailed statement from FDOE. “Currently, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida Statute 1001.42 (the law) required K-12 schools “to operate 180 days” a school year. If you do the math, that equates to 5 days a week for 36 weeks. This [executive order] did not order any new directives regarding the requirements of schools to be open, it simply created new innovative options for families to have the CHOICE to decide what works best for the health and safety of their students and family.”

Corcoran said the order created guaranteed funding for districts and schools to educate innovatively, as long as they continue to provide all students an education no matter what 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,” he said. “School district finance officers and superintendents from across the state asked for some certainty in funding, and they got in through this emergency order.”

Ingram said if the lawsuit is successful, he believes that it will give school districts more flexibility in reopening plans.

In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Ingram said schools aren’t ready to open under current circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. Coronavirus cases continue to spike in Florida with the state Department of Health on Monday reporting 10,347 new confirmed cases and 92 additional deaths.

“Until we get control of the community spread. Until we understand that our schools will not be superspreader events we have got to get rid of this hell or high water approach in opening up our brick-and-mortar schools,” he said.

Addressing those parents who do feel comfortable sending students back to schools, Ingram said the schools are not ready to handle students at this moment in time and called for DeSantis to come up with a more complete safety plan.

An online petition started by the FEA has more than 16,000 signatures. The petition urges the governor to take all necessary steps to slow the infection rate before children return to school.

Florida teacher Stefanie Miller. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved./Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Stefanie Miller, a Flordia teacher who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, spoke during the virtual press conference and said she contracted COVID-19 and was placed on a ventilator. She is continuing to recover from the sometimes deadly illness.

“My reason for doing this is to protect our young students and people working in schools,” Miller said. “I don’t wish this on anyone.”

Miller, 53, said that teaching online is not optimal but the safety of students and teachers takes precedent.

Ingram said an FEA survey found that 39% of teachers who answered said they are considering leaving the profession.

A lawsuit has already been filed against Governor Desantis and top state and local education officials in Orange County. The lawsuit, filed by an Orange County Middle School teacher, calls to stop the reopening of public schools also citing coronavirus concerns.

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.