Florida teachers sue state over safety of reopening schools

Students 10 and older can transmit coronavirus as easily as adults, Florida teachers union says
By: | July 20, 2020
The Florida Education Association has sued the state, saying the push to reopen school classrooms hinders districts' ability to plan for hybrid instruction. (GettyImages/Halfpoint)The Florida Education Association has sued the state, saying the push to reopen school classrooms hinders districts' ability to plan for hybrid instruction. (GettyImages/Halfpoint)

Educators sued Gov. Ron DeSantis and Flordia’s department of education Monday to block the reopening of classrooms during the state’s continuing surge of coronavirus infections.

The Florida Education Association’s lawsuit says the state’s worsening COVID outbreak makes it unsafe for students, teachers and staff to return to in-person instruction.

The state wants schools to be open five days a week for in-person instruction.

“The governor needs to accept the reality of the situation here in Florida, where the virus is surging out of control,” Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement. “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.”


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The suit also names Flordia education commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida State Board of Education and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez as defendants.

The suit says state officials are not following U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines in requiring schools to offer in-person instruction when the school year begins next month. This could cause further spread of the coronavirus, the plaintiffs say.

Of primary concern is new research that shows that students 10 and older can transmit coronavirus as easily as adults, Ingram said.

The suit asks the court to find that Flordia’s reopening requirements fail to recognize the authority of local school boards and superintendents and also violates the state constitution’s mandate for the safe operation of schools.

The push to reopen also hinders districts’ efforts to develop safety precautions and design blended learning programs.

“As many districts were preparing to implement hybrid education models and online instruction initiatives, just weeks before the start of the school calendar, they now find themselves forced to crowd millions of students into schools where physical distancing, although critical, becomes virtually impossible,” the lawsuit says. “Current school planning has been sabotaged by this fist from afar.”

How to make in-person instruction safe

Schools should only reopen when community transmission rates are already low or steadily declining, a group of public policy experts from John Hopkins University said in a webinar last week.

Countries that have reopened schools without igniting new coronavirus outbreaks have only done so once community transmissions have been substantially reduced, the experts said in a webinar.

In France, Finland, Japan and South Korea, for example, officials reopened schools successfully when COVID cases dropped to one per 100,000 people. Currently, some U.S. counties are seeing 60 to 80 cases per 100,000 residents,said Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“This should be a national priority,” Cicero said. “It’s measurably more import than reopening bars and restaurants.”


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.