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21 Jul, 2020 00:52

Florida teachers union sues to stop state school reopening amid Covid-19 pandemic

Florida teachers union sues to stop state school reopening amid Covid-19 pandemic

Florida’s largest teachers’ union is suing Governor Ron DeSantis and the state education bureaucracy over their emergency order to reopen schools for the fall, insisting the mandate is “reckless” and “unconscionable.”

The suit, which also targets Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, calls for the immediate cancellation of the emergency order, arguing that reopening schools too soon will “inevitably exacerbate the spread of the virus, jeopardize public health, and ultimately cause longer closures.” Schools that do not reopen their facilities for the fall semester may lose their funding under the governor’s order.

The suit cites a New York Times study claiming physical school reopenings will lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases “includ[ing] children of all ages,” arguing “middle and high school students may be even more likely to spread the virus than adults” – though relatively few children the US have died with the virus and DeSantis has argued the risk to students is “incredibly low.”

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Pointing to the many risk factors for Covid-19 complications, the teachers argued the emergency order violates the state constitution, which mandates “safe” schools. By not following CDC guidance and delaying reopening until case counts are on the decline, Florida authorities are violating DeSantis’ initial coronavirus emergency order – which underlines the need for “promoting the health and safety of each person connected with the state’s education system” – as well as the state constitution.

In addition to the Florida Education Association teachers’ union, several educators who have either survived the coronavirus or are at high risk of complications should they contract it signed on to the suit.

For his part, DeSantis has backed away from the mandate, claiming it was the Department of Education’s idea, not his, to require the resumption of in-person classes for fall semester. However, he argued that most counties could resume normal schooling and insisted he didn’t “want folks to fall behind” during a press conference on Monday.

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While the emergency order does stipulate that reopening schools in August is “subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of health, [the pandemic executive order] and subsequent executive orders,” the teachers claim health officials who don’t back school reopening have “seemingly been silenced,” told to shut up by the surgeon general, or otherwise warned to stay away from school reopening.

The lawsuit cites frightening Covid-19 statistics, calling Miami-Dade County the new epicenter of the pandemic; however, the accuracy of Florida’s case-counting was recently called into question. Last week, a number of testing facilities in the state were found to be reporting 100 percent positive results or other artificially-inflated figures to state authorities. Additionally, some labs have been “dumping” large numbers of test results in one go, creating the impression of a case surge. The state has blamed the labs for the jacked-up statistics, claiming smaller labs were reporting only positive cases to the health department.

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