With more than 150,000 Florida children already in their desks, the state and teachers unions squared off Friday in a legal battle over Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s mandate that local school officials resume in-person instruction this month amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, who is slated to issue a ruling early next week, heard closing arguments in lawsuits filed by the Florida Education Association and the union that represents Orange County teachers.
The unions allege that a July 6 emergency order issued by Corcoran requiring brick-and-mortar schools to reopen five days a week in August violates the state Constitution’s guarantee of “safe” and “secure” public education. Schools risk losing funding if they don’t comply with Corcoran’s order, which teachers’ attorneys called “financial bullying.”
But lawyers representing Gov. Ron DeSantis, Corcoran and state education officials, who are defendants in the case, maintain that the Constitution also requires the state to provide “high-quality education” to Florida schoolchildren.
[DAY 3: Florida’s largest teachers’ union fights to keep schools closed | DAY 2 RECAP: Florida’s largest teachers’ union fights to keep schools closed]
“It’s a tough balance,” Nathan Hill, an attorney with the Gunster law firm who represents the state, told Dodson on Friday.
DeSantis and Corcoran have steadfastly insisted that families need to be able to choose whether to have children return to face-to-face instruction or learn remotely. Classrooms were shut down in March as COVID-19 began to spread throughout the state, and children were forced to use distance learning the rest of the spring.
Although DeSantis and Corcoran have said publicly that teachers with medical conditions should be accommodated during the pandemic, local school officials have denied some educators’ requests to teach remotely.