Orange County School District faces lawsuit just weeks before schools reopen

Lawsuit includes list of schools with COVID-19 outbreaks

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Public Schools faces a new challenge.

This time a lawsuit filed in the ninth judicial court of Orlando by the Orange County Classroom Association, from the union that represents more than 14,000 educators.

The president of OCCTA said the school district has refused to be transparent and turn over public records they’ve requested on behalf of teachers.

"We have been in discussions and negotiations with the school district for weeks, and we're not getting anywhere," Mark Richard an attorney representing the OCCTA said.

The lawsuit includes a list of schools with COVID-19 outbreaks and what is being done to sanitize the worksites.

"The public who owns the school system who are the payers through their tax dollars of the school system, and their teachers have the right to know what's going on," Richard said during a press conference. "This is a school district that seems to have chosen no answer, no plan as their plan."

Orange County Classroom Association said they had no other choice but to get answers from superintendent Barbara Jenkins and the school board by taking them to court. OCCTA said they've asked about what safety protocols and reopening of schools will look like in the fall but their efforts have been in vain.

"Over the summer there were at least 18 outbreaks of COVID-19 in our schools," Wendy Doromal, president of the union said. "Employees were not put on notice of these outbreaks. The district has failed to collaborate in good faith with us, to work on real solutions."

In the two-count 19 page lawsuit, the teachers union is asking the school district to address their concerns.

"We've asked for a simple thing. To give us the public records of where infections have broken out, and to this day they refuse to tell the parents which high school would have an outbreak and we've asked what remedial measures are you taking," Richard said. "It talks about questions that have to be answered about your children on buses. Social distancing at bus stops. It talks about classrooms, distance learning. How are we gonna do these things?"

While OCPS reviews the lawsuit, Dave Finnigan of Osceola county, started an online petition to stop the reopening of schools. In the last two weeks since he launched the petition on moveon.org, almost 96,000 people have signed it.

“It’s pleading with Gov. DeSantis to please leave the schools closed until we have this disaster under control,” Finnigan said. Finnigan who has more than 30 years of experience in public health education said Florida is not ready to tackle this health issue in public schools. He added it will be safe to reopen schools once there’s a vaccine available.

“This disease is endemic in our population now, it’s everywhere. So, unless you stay isolated, wear a mask, and sanitize constantly, you’re gonna be likely to get the disease and transmit it to others,” Finnigan said. “Opening schools would be a disaster and I’m afraid that we’re heading for that disaster particularly right now with our death toll rising every day.”

News 6 reached to OCPS and in an email, their communications director said they have no comment pending litigation.

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