Florida’s top officials face a lawsuit by Florida’s largest teachers’ union, Florida Education Association (FEA), due to the recent mandate of in-person schooling for the upcoming school year. As cases of coronavirus in Florida continue to rise, FEA’s lawsuit aims to address the safety concerns of teachers and administration.
The Florida Constitution outlines that schools must be “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and [a] high-quality system of free public schools.” The lawsuit by FEA contends that the reopening of schools by Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla, and the Florida Department of Education during the COVID-19 pandemic is dangerous and violates the Florida Constitution.
“It’s unfortunate that we have a governor that is playing politics with children’s lives, with teachers’ lives, with cafeteria workers and bus drivers and secretaries, and people who really want to get back into our public schools,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who has been listed as a defendant in the case, has continued to defend the decision to reopen schools in light of the recent FEA lawsuit.
“[The executive order] did not order any new directives regarding the requirements of schools to be open, it simply created new innovative options for families to have the CHOICE to decide what works best for the health and safety of their student and family,” stated Corcoran. “The FEA frequently states that schools are underfunded, and if this frivolous, reckless lawsuit succeeds it will eliminate these funding guarantees – completely contradicting their normal outcry.”
FEA is both the largest association of professional employees in Florida and the largest labor union in the Southeast, containing more than 100 local unions and 145,000 members. FEA has also maintained a history of lawsuits and walkouts to protect teachers’ rights, which has asserted the union’s influence on Floridian politics.
Throughout FEA’s history, the union has claimed victory in various court cases, which could prove a concerning trend for the defendants as the lawsuit progresses.
In 2019, there was a $15 million settlement of a lawsuit concerning the Best and Brightest Bonus Program, providing FEA with another success. The Best and Brightest Bonus Program, which granted bonuses to teachers based on SAT and ACT scores, was brought to court by FEA due to allegations that the program discriminated against Black, Latino, and older teachers who may not have taken the tests.
Despite the recent lawsuit, local school boards have moved forward with discussions on reopening plans.
In Alachua County, parents have been given the option between enrolling students in traditional brick-and-mortar schools, hybrid learning through Digital Academy, or virtual learning through Alachua eSchools.
“COVID has impacted every family, but at varying levels and very differently depending on the scenario that your family is in right now,” said Alachua County Superintendent Karen Clarke.
Florida has reported over 500,000 COVID-19 cases and 7,500 deaths since March, in addition to the positivity rate of tests rising to 13.21%. Specifically, the positivity rate for children in Florida was 13.4% as of July 21, 50% higher than the national rate for all ages.
With the combination of high positivity rate of children and surveys reporting that 90% of teachers oppose the reopening plan, tensions and concerns remain high for the upcoming school year.
“Maybe we were reckless with beaches. Maybe we were reckless with bars and restaurants. But we cannot be reckless with public schools. We cannot be reckless with children’s lives, or with those who pour their souls into these kids every day,” stated Ingram.
Featured image: Two students work on virtual schoolwork from home. (Public domain photo by Department of Defense)