Ruling on reopening Florida schools put back on hold

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a partial win for Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, a Tallahassee-based appeals court on Friday put on hold a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling that said a state mandate for schools to reopen this month amid the coronavirus is unconstitutional.

DeSantis and Corcoran have been locked in a legal slugfest with teachers unions over the education commissioner’s July 6 emergency order requiring schools to reopen five days a week in August or risk losing state funding.

The 1st District Court of Appeal on Friday agreed to a state request to reinstate a stay on Judge Charles Dodson’s ruling, but it refused to approve another request to fast-track the case to the Florida Supreme Court.

Under an order released by the appellate court late Friday afternoon, final briefs in the case aren’t due until Sept. 9, meaning a decision won’t be finalized until nearly all school districts have reopened. The court did not elaborate on its decision to stay Dodson’s ruling but said, “a written order elaborating on this disposition will follow.”

The appellate-court fight comes after Dodson twice this week sided with the Florida Education Association and the Orange County teachers union in lawsuits challenging Corcoran’s order requiring schools to reopen for in-person learning.

The unions argue that Corcoran’s order violates the Florida Constitution’s guarantee of “safe” and “secure” public schools.

After the appeals court put Dodson’s ruling on hold Friday, Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram released a statement vowing to continue battling the state over the issue.

“We are going to keep fighting because lives are at stake,” Ingram said. “This is not about closing schools or opening schools. This is about allowing local districts to do what is best to protect local families.”