Florida officials are urging a Leon County circuit judge to keep in place a stay on his ruling that a state mandate to reopen brick-and-mortar schools is unconstitutional. Attorneys for the state argued that allowing the ruling to go into effect would “sow confusion and disarray.”
The state’s arguments filed Wednesday were the latest twist in a legal battle over a July 6 emergency order issued by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran mandating that schools reopen this month amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Siding with teachers unions that filed lawsuits challenging the order, Judge Charles Dodson on Monday issued a temporary injunction accusing the state of ignoring the Florida Constitution by requiring schools to resume face-to-face instruction during the pandemic. But attorneys for Corcoran and Gov. Ron DeSantis immediately filed a notice of appealing Dodson’s ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal.
Under law, that notice of appeal automatically placed a stay on Dodson’s ruling --- effectively putting it on hold until the Tallahassee-based appeals court can resolve the case. Late Tuesday, attorneys for the Florida Education Association and the Orange County teachers union asked Dodson to lift the stay.
But in a response filed Wednesday, the state’s lawyers argued that Dodson should maintain the status quo, saying that lifting the stay would disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of students and their families. “Vacating the automatic stay will mean that some of the 711,000 students currently attending brick-and-mortar schools may need to return home to parents who have not planned for their return,” the state’s lawyers wrote. Tens of thousands of Florida families “may need to quickly line up day care, renegotiate work schedules, and alter their daily lives for what, ultimately, may be overturned by the appellate courts,” the lawyers added.
The state also argued that its appeal of Dodson’s injunction has a “high likelihood of success.”
The lawsuits are based on “invoking a constitutional provision indisputably intended to benefit children and using it as a means to elevate the fears of a handful of teachers over the choices of 1.6 million students,” lawyers for DeSantis and education officials wrote. “The court should deny the motion and maintain the stay so that families already beset by uncertainty and concern will not be further burdened by repeated and potentially contradictory orders,” the state’s lawyers wrote.