Judge grants temporary injunction to allow local districts — not the state — to decide if public schools will open

high school classroom, school, education
Classroom. Credit: Pixabay.

Leon Circuit Judge Charles Dodson on Monday granted a temporary injunction to block a requirement that would force districts to reopen brick-and-mortar schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That would be unconstitutional, according to the judge.

The ruling — a decision backed by the Florida Constitution and a case with national implications — is a win for the Florida Education Association and other plaintiffs who were concerned about a state emergency order that could risk the safety of public schools as COVID-19 infections were rising.

“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,” according to Dodson.

In fact, some school districts, already open, have had run-ins with the virus, causing quarantines of students and teachers.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in May. Credit: Screenshot, Florida Channel.

The controversial emergency order signed by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran was designed to require schools to be open at least five days a week. It provided an option for families who did want to send their children to a traditional school with in-person instruction.

At issue, though, was that some districts didn’t feel that was the best move during the pandemic, and believed local school boards had the power under the Florida Constitution to make the decision — not the state.

At the same time, families have been able to opt out of traditional classroom instruction and have their children do online learning.

“District hands will not be tied as we continue to fight to protect students and educators in our public schools,” according to an FEA spokesperson.

The temporary injunction strikes the language in the emergency order that compels school districts to open brick-and-mortar schools, as well as the requirement to submit a reopening plan for approval by the Department of Education. The temporary injunction does not affect the rest of the emergency order.

The judge’s ruling said, “An injunction in this case, will allow local school boards to make safety determinations for the reopening of schools without financial penalty.”

That’s a reference to the issue at the court hearing, about whether the state would withhold funds if districts didn’t comply to the expectations of the emergency order.

Despite the Monday ruling, the FEA and their lawyers acknowledged that the fight is not over and the other side could make an appeal.

Ron Meyer, an attorney for the FEA, said that if the state appeals, the temporary injunction will be under an “automatic stay,” meaning that the temporary injunction would not take effect.

“That puts us in a position of going back to Judge Dodson, asking him to lift the automatic stay,” said Meyer.

FEA President Fedrick Ingram called on DeSantis and Corcoran to “not waste taxpayer dollars” on an appeal.

“Shame on a governor who would take us on appeal,” said Ingram in a virtual press conference Monday afternoon. “Shame on a Commissioner of Education who would spend taxpayer dollars to try and reinvent some kind of privileged defense when you already have been proven that you are wrong.”