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Judge Rules In Favor Of Teachers' Union In School Reopening Fight

child in school writing in workbook
Pasco County Schools
The Florida Channel
A Leon County judge ruled in favor of a teacher's union in the battle over the state's requirement that brick-and-mortar schools reopen.

Leon County Judge Charles Dodson has ruled in favor of the Florida Education Association's challenge of the state's requirement that brick-and-mortar schools reopen.

Monday's decision said Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran's order overrode school boards' authority to run their own systems. 

In temporarily blocking the state order, Dodson said Department of Education officials were also ignoring the constitutional requirement that the state make sure schools operate safely when they mandated reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state is expected to appeal, which would put an automatic stay on Dodson's decision.

Citing the example of Hillsborough County, Dodson said it was unconstitutional that districts risk losing state funding if they decide to delay physically reopening schools – even if students are still being taught online.

State officials signed off on the Hillsborough County School Board’s original reopening plan before the board decided Aug. 6 to change to online-only learning for the first four weeks of the semester after hearing from medical experts.

The state turned that down and threatened to pull $23 million worth of funding to the county. Officials then negotiated a plan where Hillsborough classes will be conducted entirely remotely from today through Friday before offering in-person classes starting Aug. 31.  

The FEA replied to the ruling in a tweet Monday afternoon, saying “Districts’ hands will not be tied as we continue the fight to protect students and educators in our public schools.”

After the ruling, Corcoran issued a statement on Twitter saying he remained "100% confident" the state will win the lawsuit upon appeal.

Dodson’s ruling pointed out the hearing was conducted remotely using Zoom technology out of safety concerns.

“That was a local decision based on local conditions. Because of COVID-19, jurors and witnesses are not allowed to come into our courtrooms, almost all of which are larger than classrooms in our schools.

“Additionally, defendants’ medical expert is a distinguished research doctor who teaches at Stanford University. Although he testified it is safe enough to reopen our schools, he also admitted Stanford University will not be holding in-person classes in the fall.”

Mark Schreiner has been the producer and reporter for "University Beat" on WUSF 89.7 FM since 2001 and on WUSF TV from 2007-2017.