Florida’s largest teachers’ union fights to keep schools closed

Florida Education Association suing state to stop schools from physically reopening

ORLANDO, Fla. – The state of reopening schools across Florida will soon be in the hands of a judge as two days of hearings are scheduled to begin Wednesday.

The state’s largest teachers’ union, Florida Education Association, is suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials with the goal of halting in-person learning at schools until it can be done safely.

Keep track of the latest happenings at the hearing by refreshing this page.

5:10 p.m.

Attorneys representing Florida teachers rested their case. Come Thursday, attorneys representing the governor and the education commissioner will present their arguments.

4:07 p.m.

Escobar expresses that he’s tried to search for other work and see where his skills as a teacher could be transferred into another role. He explains he’s the breadwinner of his family and being unemployed is not an option. In leaving the field of education, he would jeopardize his opportunity for student loan forgiveness and retiring is not a financially feasible option for him.

3:52 p.m.

Escobar shares photos of his classroom, saying with 25 seats it will be difficult to make sure all of them are six feet apart.

3:43 p.m.

Andre Escobar is an Osceola County teacher at Gateway High School. He is a quadriplegic educator concerned about face-to-face learning and expressing how, though well-intentioned, it could have unintended impacts on the health of all of those inside a classroom.

3:26 p.m.

Burke agrees with state’s position that virtual learning is “inferior” to in-person learning. However, he notes that if it’s unsafe it may not be possible to have children sit in a classroom.

“I think everyone here can come to a consensus we want in-person learning. That in-person learning is ideal. The relationship with teachers and staff is important in the growth and maturation of children but at this time when it’s unsafe...we can’t do it.”

2:57 p.m.

Harvard Dr. Thomas Burke will be the next person to take the stand.

2:06 p.m.

Dr. Nielsen opined on the state’s manual that will guide schools’ reopening plan, saying, “In my opinion, there was lack of direction, lack of certainty, lack of definition and lack of guidance. These are schools, not hospitals.”

She later said, “If you are going to open up, you have to have the air clean, you have to be safe. And we aren’t ready. It’s like a disaster waiting to happen.”

1:35 p.m.

Dr. Annette Nielsen, who works in Central Florida and serves on the Orange County Schools Medical Adviosry Committee, testified about COVID-19 cases she has treated, including a 15-year-old girl.

“She stroked out of the left side of her brain. (She is) completely not able to eat or talk. That’s bad,” she said.

12 p.m. Nadeen Yanes’ video report (below):

The state of reopening schools across Florida will soon be in the hands of a judge as two days of hearings are scheduled to begin Wednesday.

12:18 p.m.

Attorneys representing the governor and state leaders are trying to keep the video out.

“To take snippets of videos ... I have never seen anything like this in 40 years,” David Wells said.

12:13 p.m.

Orange County continues to be an example in the fight to keep schools closed across the state. Attorneys are trying to get the video below admitted evidence. It includes comments from Dr. Raul Pino.

11:07 a.m.

Frederick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state, will testify next.

11 a.m.

James Lis, a teacher at Dr. Phillips HS, cried on the stand, saying, “If there is no change tomorrow, I am going to have to explain class by class to my students that I can’t return. And no, I’m not going. I have chosen my kids, my students over so many difficult things, but I can’t put my family at risk.”

10:50 a.m.

James Lis says he has an 81-year-old mother-in-law at home and was told by his principal there was no option for him to teach only virtually.

“I do have concern for my own health, but my primary concern is bringing the virus home and infecting my mother-in-law,” he said.

10:29 a.m.

James Lis, a teacher at Dr. Phillips High School, will testify that if schools are forced to reopen, he will be forced to retire. They are taking a 5 minute recess before Lis takes the stand.

10:15 a.m.

Wells says, “My question is, the parents have a choice, am I right?

“The parents do have a choice at this point, yes,” Shamburger replies.

10:02 a.m.

David Wells, the attorney representing the state, is cross examining Tamara Shamburger.

Wells is going over the Florida Department of Education’s reopening guidance, highlighting different options given to parents and many options listed for districts.

9:55 a.m.

“We immediately went (back to the) drawing board. I felt like I was stuck between a rock and hard place being forced to chose the life of a student versus the funding of the state,” Hillsborough County School Board member Tamara Shamburger said. “To have Tallahassee really strangle my authority and my rights as an elected board member was concerning. Now, against medical advice, we are going to be putting our teachers and students in harm’s way.”

9:46 a.m.

Hillsborough School board member Tamara Shamburger says a revised a plan, based on medical advice, to delay the reopening of schools was rejected by the state.

9:41 a.m.

Shamburger said when she asked a panel of medical experts if it was safe to reopen schools, the only abstention was the Florida Department of Health doctor. She says she was “shocked” by the non-response.

9:29 a.m.

Attorneys representing teachers are going over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order requiring that all “brick and mortar schools shall reopen five days a week.”

“Was it optional? No, that was not my understanding,” Shamburger said.

9:20 a.m.

Hillsborough County School Board member Tamara Shamburger is the first witness to take the stand. She believes school should be distance-learning only right now.

9:12 a.m.

David Wells, representing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Department of Education, says he will show the school district’s plan, which had to be approved by the state, showing that schools can open safely.

9:10 a.m.

David Wells, representing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Department of Education, says, “Any opening of the schools will bring about some type of risk, but a greater risk is the closing of the schools.”

9:08 a.m.

Kendall Coffey, who’s representing the teachers, says, “This case is not about teachers or educators who don’t want to go to work and don’t want to be with students, teachers love going to class. But, of course, they don’t want to do it that will jeopardize their safety.”

Orlando attorney Jacob Stuart added, “We are going to have a quadriplegic testify, Mr. Escobar, and he is going to have to talk to you about risking his life.”

8:53 a.m.

The union and the state will both begin with 15-minute opening statements.

8:45 a.m.

The hearing in Tallahassee started at 8:45 a.m. as the state’s largest teachers’ union, along with several local teachers, are fighting for a last-minute injunction to keep schools from reopening by Friday.

6:45 a.m.

News 6 reporter Nadeen Yanes will monitor the hearings.

Check out her latest report in the video below.

Florida’s largest teachers’ union and attorneys for the state are meeting in Tallahassee Tuesday for court-ordered meditation in an attempt to come to an agreement on how to safely reopen school campuses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

5:45 a.m.

The state’s largest teachers’ union, Florida Education Association, says it’s not safe to have face-to-face learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.