ORLANDO, Fla. – The debate over reopening schools may be headed to court.
A joint lawsuit filed by an Orange County teacher and parent, whose children are enrolled in the school district, was filed Sunday. It asks a judge to intervene and stop districts from conducting face-to-face learning.
The lawsuit states that the school district doesn’t have enough resources to follow CDC guidelines for reopening, including social distancing in classrooms and safe transportation for students. The suit says that the Orange County school board is being forced to reopen in August to avoid the risk of losing state funding and claims if schools reopen, the health of teachers and students will be at risk.
The lawsuit alleges that by reopening schools “teachers, staff, and children are at severe risk of exposure to COVID-19, which will no doubt lead to serious illness and death... and will also worsen the spread.”
As part of the complaint, the teacher and parent are seeking relief in three forms:
- Declaratory relief: Finding that the school district failed to provide a satisfactory plan to re-open Orange County Public Schools for face-to-face instruction providing health, safety, well-being and security for students, teachers and staff as required by the Florida Constitution.
- Injunctive relief: Preventing Orange County Public Schools from opening for face-to-face instruction until it can demonstrate compliance with the Florida Constitution by providing a safe and secure teaching environment in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Violation of the Florida Constitution: An order for the district to refrain from reopening schools until it can demonstrate compliance with the Plaintiff’s right to a safe and secure environment in public schools.
Over the weekend, Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down on his position, saying studies have shown that children have a low risk of spreading the virus.
“The risk is minimal, more minimal than seasonal influenza. What role do they play in transmission? The younger kids play almost zero role in transmission. Every employer has to make accommodations for folks who may be at risk, whether it’s because of age or health status,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said parents should have a choice in how their kids will continue their education this fall.
“One thing that’s important, parents should be able to make the decision that’s best for their kid. If they believe their child is better off doing distance learning, if they’re not comfortable with their kid going back to a school setting, they should have the right to make that choice. I also think there’s parents who have seen regression in academics and seen their kids miss some of the great things with being in school and what to have that ability to get them back,” DeSantis said.
Meantime, districts are moving forward with their reopening plans. Lake County will vote Monday on its options. Much like other school districts, face-to-face and online learning are under consideration.
The lawsuit filed in Orange County may not be the only legal challenge when it comes to reopening schools. The Florida Education Association, a large union, held a news conference to announce its own lawsuit against the state.