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Judge rules Florida's order forcing brick-and-mortar schools to reopen unconstitutional

Department of Education appeals decision
Posted at 3:31 PM, Aug 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-24 18:13:03-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A judge in Leon County ruled in teachers' favor in a lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association (FEA) against the state's emergency order that forces districts to physically reopen public schools five days a week.

FEA announced on social media that Judge Charles Dodson granted the association's motion for a temporary order against Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran's executive order on reopening brick-and-mortar schools for the 2020-2021 academic year.

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Dodson said in a court document that his ruling will allow "local school boards to make safety determinations for the reopening of schools without financial penalty."

"This is what the local school boards were elected to do," Dodson said in a court document. "There is simply no adequate remedy at law available to Plaintiffs under these circumstances. They will suffer irreparable harm."

Dodson went onto say that Corcoran's executive order is unconstitutional.

"The Order is unconstitutional to the extent it arbitrarily disregards safety, denies local school boards decision making with respect to reopening brick and mortar schools, and conditions funding on an approved reopening plan with a start date in August," he said in a court document.

Below is more information on the judge's ruling:

In July, education commissioner Richard Corcoran put out an order mandating districts list in-person learning, five days a week as an option for parents during their reopening plans.

The suit filed by the largest teachers union, which now includes the NAACP and the NAACP Florida State Conference, educators and parents, asks to allow local districts to make decisions on reopening plans without the threat of funds being withheld by the state.

"We do not believe the education commissioner has the legal right to compel districts to open campuses for in-person learning without regard to the health and wellbeing of students and staff. The suit seeks to invalidate his emergency order."

↓ Read the full lawsuit below ↓

The Department of Education has appealed the decision.

Below is a statement from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran regarding Dodson’s ruling:

"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. 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.” – Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran

Gov. Ron DeSantis' office released the following statement on the ruling:

"We intend to appeal this ruling and are confident in our position and in the authority of the Commissioner and the Governor to do what is best for our students."

The order threw a wrench in how Hillsborough County Schools planned to move forward with the 2020-2021 school year. The school board initially announced the first four weeks would be virtual, and Superintendent Addison Davis had to meet with the Department of Education and revised the plan to one week of virtual learning.

Davis also revealed the decision to stick with the original four-week virtual plan could've resulted in the district going bankrupt. Hillsborough County Schools would have incurred a more than $200 million in penalties.

Funding also motivated the Orange County School Board to vote 6-to-2 for a traditional return to school. According to ABC-affiliate WFTV, this went against the district's medical advisory committee recommendation. They reported Orange County's superintendent told the school board the district could get slapped with a $270 million fine.

If you missed closing arguments or any of the other hearings, you can re-watch them here.