Back-to-school battle: Judge temporarily blocks order requiring Florida schools to reopen


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Florida judge has sided with teachers in a lawsuit that was filed over the reopening of schools in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson granted a motion on Monday for a temporary injunction against an emergency order signed by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in July. The order said all brick-and-mortar schools throughout the state had to reopen in August and provide full services at least five days a week.

The state’s largest teachers union said in a lawsuit that the order put lives at risk.

The Florida Education Association tweeted after the judge made the decision Monday saying, in part, “Districts’ hands will not be tied as we continue the fight to protect students and educators in our public schools.”

The teachers union and the state wrapped up their final arguments in court on Friday, after three days and 18 hours of testimony. In court, attorneys for the Florida Education Association pleaded with the judge to keep public schools closed, saying districts were being forced to reopen or lose millions in state funding.

Attorneys for the state argued that the COVID-19 risk is not great enough to keep schools closed.

Corcoran also defended his order while attending an event at the White House earlier this month.

“It does the opposite and cements the point that we’re giving maximum flexibility to teachers, students and parents,” he said.

The state had said reopening decisions were supposed to be made with advice from local health officials. But, throughout the trial, DOH officials repeatedly said they would not advise schools whether it is safe to reopen.

The decision from Judge Dodson came on the same day students in Hillsborough County Public Schools returned to learning virtually. The district had voted to start school with four weeks of distance learning, but the state intervened. The district eventually settled on just one week of learning online.

It’s not clear yet how Monday’s ruling could impact plans in Hillsborough County or in other counties across the state.

The Florida Education Association has scheduled a news conference at 3:45 p.m. Monday to provide more information.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

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