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Attorney representing teachers in lawsuit calls for recall of Palm Beach County School Board members

School district employees demanding that brick-and-mortar schools in Palm Beach County be closed
wptv-barry-silver-zoom.jpg
Posted at 2:11 PM, Sep 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-24 18:02:42-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The attorney representing several school employees a class action lawsuit against the School District of Palm Beach County held a news conference on Thursday.

Barry Silver said he's demanding the recall of six Palm Beach County School Board members who supported the reopening of brick-and-mortar schools. The only exception, Silver said, is Dr. Debra Robinson, a school board member who feels reopening schools is not safe for children and staff members.

"Resist is calling for the recall of every board member, other than Debra Robinson, for gross malfeasance," Silver said.

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WATCH LIVE: Attorney representing teachers in lawsuit against School District of Palm Beach County holds news conference. https://bit.ly/303TiyO

Posted by WPTV on Thursday, September 24, 2020

Six school district employees and the husband of a Palm Beach County teacher are suing the school district, demanding that all 179 brick-and-mortar schools in the county be closed "until competent, independent health officials say it is safe to do so."

"We're gonna keep fighting as long as we need to to protect the teachers," Silver said.

"We feel that we were abandoned by six out of the seven board members," said Steven Silberberg, a teacher at Glades Central High School who's a plaintiff on the lawsuit.

Manuel Levine, a teacher at J.C. Mitchell Elementary School in Boca Raton who's another plaintiff on the lawsuit, said students at his school are struggling with wearing masks and social distancing.

"The masks do not stay on. The masks that were furnished by the school system are far too large for kindergarten and first grade students. They're very tiny, these children, and they're always slipping down and they don't quite understand what's going on either," said Levine. "I just really don't think this model is working for young children."

Levine called schools a "breeding ground" and "Petri dish" for spreading COVID-19.

WPTV reached out to the School District of Palm Beach County for a response to Silver's demand that six school board members be recalled, but the district declined to comment.

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During a virtual court hearing on Wednesday, Judge Glenn Kelley heard hours of testimony and arguments from both sides and said he'll make a decision on the request for a temporary emergency injunction at a later date.

"It is not the courts, with respect to safety and health, that should be making these decisions," Judge Kelley said. "It has to be left to and great deference given to the policymakers."

Silver said the issue is one of life and death.

"It is people with cancer, all types of health conditions, lots of them, and they are told to go back into this school," Silver told Judge Kelley. "We have discovered, since the reopening, yesterday, that there are many, many problems. It's not working the way they anticipated."

Dr. Robinson testified on Wednesday that she feels it's not safe for teachers to be required to go back to brick-and-mortar schools.

"I would say no. But I also understand we can't get to zero risk," Robinson said. "I don't know that we will be able to consistently take every safety precaution possible."

According to School District of Palm Beach County, many safety changes are now in place at brick-and-mortar schools including mandatory face masks for all children and staff members on school buses and campuses, spaced out desks in classrooms, social distancing markers on the floors, one-way hallways, one-sided cafeteria tables, improved air filters, and more frequent sanitation.

READ: Palm Beach County's school safety plan

At Wednesday's hearing, an attorney for the school district said he disagrees with Silver's argument that this is a life and death case.

"What's at stake here is the loss of employment," said Sean Fahey. "What's at stake here is a decision by these teachers to choose to refuse to comply with a directive of their employers."

The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 18, just days before Palm Beach County students returned to in-classroom instruction on Monday.

In response to the lawsuit, the School District of Palm Beach County released this statement to WPTV:

"Palm Beach County Public School campuses will reopen to students, as planned and as required by the State's Emergency Order 2020-EO-06, on September 21. The District's legal team is handling the litigation of the matter and does not comment on the strategies of matters that are in litigation. As for District campuses, many efforts have been made to balance the need to have teachers in the classroom for those students who have chosen to return to brick and mortar. The District has been working hard to ensure that both employees and students have an enjoyable and safe return."