TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The court case challenging the opening of brick-and-mortar schools is moving from Miami to Tallahassee.
The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, chose to file in Miami because it is the epicenter of the state’s coronavirus outbreak, but some schools will open before there is a decision.
Dozens of school districts are set to reopen in-person learning next week.
Attorneys for the union and state were set to argue whether that move was safe during a Friday hearing, but a judge granted the state’s motion to transfer the case from Miami to Tallahassee.
“It is an issue of statewide importance,” Eleventh Circuit Judge Spencer Eig said in making his decision.
Lawyers representing the teachers union don’t view it that way. They saw the relocation of the case as an effort to stall and delay court proceedings.
“We’re disappointed,” attorney Kendall Coffey said. “Just in a sense that it added a delay, which was completely unnecessary.”
Coffey’s colleague, attorney Ron Meyer, said he hopes the two sides can avoid going to trial.
“Let’s talk,” Meyer said. “If school districts do indeed have the option to take actions in the safety of students without being financially penalized, say it. Don’t rely on an ambitious order.”
With the case moving to the Capitol, it’s now clear some schools will reopen before this case is resolved.
Florida pediatricians have been warning Gov. Ron DeSantis for weeks it’s not yet safe to open schools.
“What I wish would happen is that the schools would just hold off brick and mortar until we are down to below 5-percent infection rate,” Dr. Paul Robinson, president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said. “Florida is now overall at just over 11 (percent). Admittedly, it’s come down since we wrote the paper, but it’s still far too high in our opinion to open up schools.”
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, the state added 599 new cases among people aged 17 and under.
“We need to be agree on how to make schools safe,” Meyer said. “We don’t want to paint hearses yellow and park out in front of our schools.”
In moving the case, the judge said he would expedite the transfer.
Lawyers said when it gets to Tallahassee, the NAACP will join the effort because of the high rate of infection among the state’s African-American population.
Union lawyers said Wednesday they would seek a stay in the order to move if it was granted. But Thursday, they chose to keep the case moving.