Florida’s largest teachers union is suing the state and GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis for ordering schools to hold in-person classes five days a week starting next month.
The Florida Education Association, which represents 140,000 education employees across the state, filed the lawsuit on Monday accusing DeSantis of violating a state constitutional mandate to keep schools “safe and secure,” according to National Review. The suit stems from a July 6 Education Department order directing schools to “ensure the quality and continuity of the educational process, the comprehensive wellbeing of students and families and a return to Florida hitting its full economic stride.”
“Gov. DeSantis needs a reality check, and we are attempting to provide one,” FEA President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement. “The governor needs to accept the reality of the situation here in Florida, where the virus is surging out of control. He needs to accept the evolving science. It now appears that kids 10 and older may pass along the coronavirus as easily as adults. Everyone wants schools to reopen, but we don’t want to begin in-person teaching, face an explosion of cases and sickness, then be forced to return to distance learning. Florida’s Constitution demands that public schools be safe. Teachers and parents want our schools to meet that basic standard.”
The Florida Department of Education hit back at the teachers union, saying that the FEA “hasn’t read nor understands” the July 6 order. Department spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said that the order is a reminder to school boards and superintendents that Florida schools are constitutionally obligated to continue educating students amid the pandemic, Politico reports.
The order also guarantees funding for school districts to find creative ways to continue educating students, according to Fenske.
“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,” Fenske wrote.
DeSantis has advocated for schools reopening in the fall and letting parents make the choice of whether to send their children. On Monday at an event in Orlando, he distanced himself from his Education Department’s July 6 order.
“I didn’t do an executive order. That was the Department of Education,” he said, according to The Palm Beach Post.
“Our guiding principles have been, number one, that ultimately parents need to be free to choose the best environment for their student, their kids,” DeSantis said. “That means if they prefer distance learning because they’re not comfortable with having kids in school, then that’s their decision as a parent.”
“If people want a hybrid, [school districts] can offer hybrid. And, obviously, those parents that believe kids need to be in school, we want to provide them with an option to do that as well,” he added.
Florida’s coronavirus case numbers have skyrocketed in the past month, though much of the surge is due to the state’s targeted testing strategy. Daily deaths from the coronavirus have also risen across the state, but at a rate much lower than the increase in cases.