Judge Strikes Down Florida Order Linking School Reopening to Funding

August 25, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson
Plainedge Middle School. (Photo by Dan McCue)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Florida judge struck down a state order Monday that required “brick and mortar” schools in the state to be open five-days-a-week by the end of the month. Judge Charles Dodson of the Leon County Circuit Court ruled the order unconstitutional. Shortly after the ruling was announced, Florida state officials said they would appeal.

In his decision, Judge Dodson said the order was unconstitutional on the grounds that it “arbitrarily disregards safety, denies local school boards decision making with respect to opening brick and mortar schools, and conditions funding on an approved reopening plan with a start date in August.” 

The ruling was brought to court under two lawsuits, one from Orange County and the other from the Florida Education Association, the statewide teacher’s union. Both lawsuits sought to challenge Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s July 6 order. 

Judge Dodson also said that the executive order harms Florida’s teachers who “are being told they must go back into classrooms under extremely unsafe conditions.” 

The judge outlined conditions such as cramped classrooms, risk of viral infection to teachers and their loved ones, and the lack of personal protection equipment as some of the many unsafe conditions that teachers face when going back to the classroom amid the pandemic. 

Corcoran’s statewide order required schools to submit in-person reopening plans to the state, and stated funding for the upcoming school year would be given upon the state’s approval of said in-person reopening plans unless health officials say otherwise. 

For those school districts opting for remote instead of in-person instruction, Corcoran’s order stipulates that they forfeit their funding from the state. 

The judge’s ruling comes as a blow to Corcoran and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who argued the order offers an educational choice for schools and teachers. 

In a statement, Corcoran said, “We’ve said it all along, and we will say it one million times — we are 100% confident we will win this lawsuit. This fight has been, and will continue to be, about giving every parent, every teacher and every student a choice, regardless of what educational option they choose.” 

Corcoran continued saying, “If you are one of the 1.6 million students who have chosen to return to the classroom, a parent, or a classroom teacher that wanted to educate their student in person, we strongly encourage you to call the Florida Education Association and tell them to drop this frivolous lawsuit.”

According to Dodson’s ruling, the judge believes that schools should reopen “when the local decision-makers determine upon advice of medical experts that it is safe to do so.”

In a statement, FEA President, Frederick Ingram, said that local decision making was their argument all along and that the FEA “appreciates” the judge’s ruling.

“This is only a temporary injunction” Ingram admitted, “but we plan to press ahead in court. 

“Local communities should have the freedom to make the best decisions for reopening or keeping open local schools. Our districts should not be ruled by reckless edicts… Safety must come before politics.”

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