#childsafety | Florida Teachers Challenge School Reopening In Lawsuit

MIAMI, FL — The 150,000-member Florida Education Association (FEA), which represents state teachers, has filed a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials challenging the planned reopening of brick-and-mortar schools next month.

“Contrary to initial suggestions, children are at risk of contracting and spreading the
virus, and of developing severe illness resulting in death,” according to the suit filed on Monday in Miami. “As of July 9, 2020, the Florida Department of Health reported over 17,000 cases in children under 18 years old, 213 hospitalizations and four deaths.”


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The lawsuit claims Florida had a 31 percent positive test among children as of last week though DeSantis has insisted young children have a low risk of spreading the disease.


Ingram said the state faces an “explosion of cases and sickness”if physical schools reopen as planned. “Everyone wants schools to reopen, but we don’t want to begin in-person teaching,” he said. “Florida’s constitution demands that public schools be safe. Teachers and parents want our schools to meet that basic standard.”

DeSantis told reporters Monday that parents should be free to choose the “best environment” for their children, including in-person instruction.

“If that means they prefer distance learning because they are not comfortable with having kids in school, then that’s their decision as a parent,” the governor said during a stop in Orlando. “If people want a hybrid, then they can opt for a hybrid. Obviously, those parents that believe kids need to be in school, we want to provide them an option to do that as well.”

Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran earlier this month ordered all “brick-and-mortar schools” to reopen in August but also gave school districts flexibility to use what officials described as “innovative teaching methods” to educate children.

“Upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick-and-mortar schools at least five days per week for all students, subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of health, Executive Order 20-149 and subsequent executive orders,” Corcoran said in his emergency order.

Ingram, a band director in Miami-Dade County, told reporters at a virtual news conference his organization wants Corcoran’s order rescinded.

“This lawsuit does not seek to interfere with local school district plans on reopening,” Ingram said. “We believe that decisions such as how and when to reopen schools are best made at the local level.”

He called the order to require a brick-and-mortar option as “reckless” and “unconscionable.” Several teachers and parents are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Miami-Dade Teacher Mindy Festge, who is one of the named plaintiffs in the suit, said her youngest son has been diagnosed with a chronic digestive disorder and an autoimmune disease. Her husband is also a teacher in the school system.

“Even if my son did not return to a brick-and-mortar school, my husband would have to,” she said. “Having the chance of bringing anything home to pass it on to my son, expose it to my son, is very dangerous.”

Plaintiffs Victoria Dublino-Henjes and Andres Henjes are the parents of two
elementary school children in Pinellas County. Both of their children suffer from
respiratory issues and are at higher risk of serious complications if exposed to this deadly virus, according to the lawsuit.

Stefanie Beth Miller, another plaintiff in the suit, teaches second grade at Fox Trail Elementary in Broward County. She spent three weeks on a ventilator after contracting the coronavirus and said she doesn’t wish the illness on anyone.

“I, of course, want to go back to teaching but it needs to be safe,” she said. “Twenty-one days on a ventilator, two months in a hospital, eight days in rehab and now I’ve been home for six weeks getting physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy daily.”

FEA officials said a teacher in Pasco County died from the coronavirus on Sunday.

“No one wants to be back in a classroom and reopen our school buildings more than educators,” Ingram said. “There is a known risk that has to be mitigated by our state government before we can enter our brick-and-mortar schools.”

Ingram said FEA wants schools to begin with distance learning. “Once the rate of infection is under control and falling and we have the resources to safeguard our school families then and only then should students return to brick-and-mortar facilities,” he said.


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