FEA’s lawsuit requests significant returns involving big money; calls Miami “ground zero” for COVID-19

School
School Entrance sign. Credit: CD Davidson-Hiers

The Florida Education Association’s lawsuit this week relates to a controversial emergency order for reopening schools but also requires significant state action that would likely require a big price tag.

Reducing class sizes, adding more staff, ensuring schools have enough protective equipment and supplies and adding plexiglass shields are part of the “relief” the FEA is demanding in the lawsuit to be able to safely reopen brick-and-mortar schools.

It isn’t clear which districts would have the safeguards and funds in place to respond to the lawsuit’s directive, raising questions about whether schools would have to close and return to online learning for the time being.

The start of school is less than three weeks away, and the lawsuit is pressing defendants to act. Those defendants are Gov. Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education, the Florida State Board of Education and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Miami-Dade has had the largest COVID-19 infections in the state, the largest public school enrollment in Florida.

The lawsuit calls Miami-Dade “ground zero. “While all 67 counties face the horrors of COVID-19, Miami-Dade County has become the new epicenter of the global pandemic,” the lawsuit stated.

The final pages of the 32-page lawsuit outlines “relief” in the form of three major “orders:”

/”An order enjoining all named defendants from unnecessarily and unconstitutionally forcing millions of public-school students and employees to report to unsafe brick and mortar schools that should remain physically closed during the resurgence of COVID19 in Florida.”

/”An order requiring Defendants to develop and implement an online instruction plan aimed at all children and to make internet connectivity and computer devices available to all students, as many districts have already done, so that they can meaningfully engage in virtual instruction until it is safe to reopen brick and mortar schools.”

/”An order requiring that, before the physical reopening of brick and mortar schools, each school must have adequate personal protective equipment and other necessary supplies for all employees and students; reduce class sizes to comply with physical distancing requirements; install sufficient hand-sanitizing stations; add plexiglass shields where necessary; increase staffing; increase school clinic capabilities; and take all necessary measures to protect students
and staff and minimize COVID-19 transmission.”

The lawsuit came about after Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, issued an emergency order saying that “upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students.”

Many districts had planned for alternative instruction plans–such as hybrid models which utilize both in-person and online instruction.

Ron Meyer, an attorney in Tallahassee and one of the lawyers listed on the FEA’s lawsuit, says that it is “impossible” to know the timeline of this lawsuit.

“These questions are hard to answer during normal times,” he said in an email conversation with the Florida Phoenix. “When courts are operating in the face of the pandemic, it is impossible to predict time frames.”

“The defendants still need to officially be served, and then an attempt will be made to get hearing time on our injunction request.  We expect that the State will file motions attacking the legal issues advanced.”