Why a judge blocked Florida’s order to reopen schools

State officials 'reduced the constitutional guarantee of a safe education to an empty promise,' judge rules
By: | August 25, 2020
(GettyImages/Vladimir Vladimirov)

Saying Florida officials “ignored” safety during COVID, a judge on Monday blocked the state’s attempt to hold back funding from districts that don’t reopen for in-person instruction.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in favor of the Florida Education Association and several other organizations in granting the temporary injunction against Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s executive order that required schools to submit plans to reopen five days a week.

“Local communities should have the freedom to make the best decisions for reopening or keeping open local schools,” Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement. “Our districts should not be ruled by reckless edicts from on high.”

Flordia districts that have reopened have already seen cases and quarantines, including Martin County, where about 300 students and several educators have been isolated due to COVID since in-person classes began Aug. 11, the association said.

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Dodson—who noted in his ruling that hearings in the case have been held via Zoom videoconference due to COVID concerns—found that the state’s order fails to consider two of the CDC’s benchmarks for reopening schools: The rate of transmission in a community and the safety precautions implemented by administrators.

“What has been clearly established is there is no easy decision and opening schools will most likely increase COVID-19 cases in Florida,” Dodson wrote.

The judge said the Florida Education Association provided convincing evidence that state health officials were instructed not to offer their opinion when local school boards sought guidance on the safety of reopening classrooms.

“Video evidence of school board meetings indicated several school boards’ frustration with the lack of help in that regard. Local school boards wanted to know— is it safe to open our schools in our county?” Dodson wrote. “Defendants reduced the constitutional guarantee of a safe education to an empty promise, in violation of the Florida Constitution.”

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