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State Appeals School Reopening Ruling: Florida School Districts in Limbo

Yellow school bus
Photo: Renan Kamikoga on Unsplash

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Florida attorneys have appealed Leon County Judge Charles Dodson’s ruling that barred the state from denying funding for school districts that don’t comply with a mandate to reopen classrooms this month for face-to-face instruction.

The state filed a notice of appeal almost immediately after Dodson issued his ruling Monday, automatically staying his injunction that prohibited the state from enforcing much of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s order that districts reopen classrooms with the “full panoply of services” by Aug. 31 or lose state funding.

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In the interim, the ruling leaves in limbo about half the state’s 67 school districts that had not reopened classrooms but were required to do so by next Monday until the appeal is resolved in the Tallahassee-based First District Court of Appeal unless Dodson reinstates his suspended injunction. He had not done so by Tuesday afternoon.

About 150,000 of Florida’s 2.8 million K-12 students had resumed face-to-face instruction as of last week, Florida K-12 School Chancellor Jacob Oliva said last week.

Dodson issued his order after a failed mediation session Aug. 18 preceded a three-day trial that concluded Friday.

The case was a consolidated lawsuit drawn from challenges filed by the Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, an Orange mother and several Orange County teachers.

Corcoran said Monday he is “100 percent confident we will win this lawsuit.”

“This fight has been, and will continue to be, about giving every parent, every teacher and every student a choice, regardless of what educational option they choose,” Corcoran said in a statement. “If you are one of the 1.6 million students who have chosen to return to the classroom, a parent, or a classroom teacher that wanted to educate their student in person, we strongly encourage you to call the Florida Education Association and tell them to drop this frivolous lawsuit.”

Dodson did not strike all of Corcoran’s order. His injunction negated requirements that in-person classes be available by Aug. 31 and districts submit reopening plans to be approved by the Florida Department of Education (DOE). It also declared as unconstitutional the withholding of funds for districts that fail to comply.

FEA President Fedrick Ingram called Dodson’s ruling “a great day for Florida public schools” and said the decision placed safety above the partisan politics he said spurred Corcoran to issue his order at the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"You lost today, Mr. Commissioner and Mr. Governor, because you're wrong. We won because we're on the side of right, the side of right about public health and public safety,” Ingram said Monday.

Ingram called on Corcoran and DeSantis to “not waste taxpayers’ money” in filing an appeal.

“Shame on a governor who would take us on appeal,” Ingram said. “Shame on a commissioner of education who would spend taxpayer dollars to try and reinvent some kind of privileged defense when you already have been proven that you are wrong.”

Ingram said even with the injunction stayed, Dodson’s ruling allows school boards to revisit reopening plans and decisions without the threat of incurring a “drastic loss” in funding.

Members of the Orange, Hillsborough and Pinellas county school boards were among officials who said Monday they plan to do just that in the coming days.

Ingram also offered an olive branch to Corcoran and DOE officials.

“Let’s work together. We can do this together,” he said. “Teachers want to be back in school. We don’t want to risk our own lives.”

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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