JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With days until the school year begins in many Florida districts, lawyers are fighting to kill a statewide emergency order that requires all schools to provide an in-person learning option five days a week.
The Florida Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, and five other plaintiffs are asking a judge to halt the order through a temporary injunction and allow districts to move to full-virtual learning until they deem it safe to reopen.
The civil case was filed in Miami-Dade County and targets Mayor Carlos Gimenez as a defendant, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Department of Education and the Florida Board of Education.
Since the lawsuit was filed, Miami-Dade County’s school district submitted its reopening plan to the FDOE, a plan that involves starting the school year with 100-percent virtual learning.
The FDOE later approved Miami-Dade’s reopening plan. In a Zoom hearing Wednesday, its attorney, Angel Cortiñas, argued that approval should lead to the case’s dismissal or, at least, a change of venue.
Attorney Kendall Coffey, who represents the FEA, argued that the case has statewide implications.
“The circumstances that brought us here today are dramatic, tragic and well known to all of us,” Coffey said. “This state emergency order is unconstitutional and so it would indeed have statewide ramifications.”
DeSantis and Corcoran have repeatedly promoted the order as a means of opening the door for districts and families to have much-needed options.
The FEA lawsuit claims the order unfairly threatens to withhold funding from any districts that don’t comply.
“We think that the order is confusing, it’s not reasonably anchored upon data and evidence, and is subject to an attack as essentially a violation of due process,” Coffey said.
In a status conference last week, the union’s lawyer asked the state to just clarify the order to say, in front of a judge, that districts’ funding was not at stake.
“There is a plan in place, and it reads as it reads, and he’s not entitled to the clarification,” Cortiñas said.
The judge set a hearing for 11 a.m. Thursday to hear arguments on the state’s motion to dismiss for improper venue. Another hearing for a separate motion to dismiss and the union’s motion for an injunction is set for 9 a.m. Friday.