DAY 2 RECAP: Florida’s largest teachers’ union fights to keep schools closed

Florida Education Association sues state | Closing arguments Friday

The second day of a hearing between the state of Florida and the largest teachers’ union continued Thursday and closing arguments from both sides will happen Friday.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The second day of a hearing between the state of Florida and the largest teachers’ union continued Thursday and closing arguments from both sides will happen Friday.

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.

On Thursday, attorneys for the state called witnesses for a full day of testimony from doctors, experts, parents and school officials.

Here’s a recap of Wednesday’s hearing when the lawyers for the teachers union presented its case.

Throughout the day News 6 reporter Nadeen Yanes posted updates from the hearing, view a recap of her updates below:

5:30 p.m.

Closing arguments will begin at noon Friday. Both the state and the teachers union will take about an hour each to make any final arguments.

Orange County schools welcome about 44% of its student body on Friday.

The judge could make a decision tomorrow on the case.

4:30 p.m.

Jacob Oliva, Chancellor for the Division of Public Schools for ⁦the Florida Department of Education, said that as of Thursday, 28 districts in Florida have reopened schools for face-to-face learning.

Orange County Public Schools, Central Florida’s largest school district, is set to resume in-person learning on Friday. While speaking during the hearing on Thursday, Oliva tried to rebut testimony from local teachers who said they don’t have the proper personal protective equipment to do their jobs during the ongoing pandemic. Oliva argued districts should be prepared, pointing out that Orange County received $55 million in CARES Act money to help fund the reopening of schools.

A Hillsborough County school board member who spoke on Wednesday said that when they tried to delay the reopening of schools in their district, their funding was threatened by the state.

On Thursday, Oliva shared the state’s side of the story, saying the problem was that the Hillsborough County school board was deviating from the plan they originally submitted and had approved by the state.

3 p.m.

The state has now called Jacob Oliva, Chancellor for the Division of Public Schools for ⁦the Florida Department of Education.

Oliva is speaking about student learning regression during at-home learning as well as the issues with access to internet for some students.

“It became very apparent that access to devices and internet was a challenge. We know we had vulnerable students that we support such as special needs, homeless students,” he said. “And through this process we recognized there were some students who became disconnected from schools when they were not open.”

Oliva described this education gap as “COVID slide.”

2:30 p.m.

Manatee County School Board member Dr. Scott Hopes, who spoke from a hospital bed for an unknown reason, described how the first week of reopening schools went for his district.

“Now in day 4, we are 1 of the largest districts in the state to reopen schools - and I have to admit, even from a hospital bed, I can’t be more proud,” Hopes said.

Hopes also described his reaction when he first read the executive order from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to reopen brick-and-mortar schools.

“The initial reaction was a little bit of shock then I looked back and read the entire document and I read it twice, I found it to be artistic and brilliant at the same time,” Hopes said.

After reviewing the order, Hopes said the district surveyed parents, businesses and community members before reopening.

“Over 21,000 people responded and a majority wanted schools to open 5 days a week in the fall,” he said.

Hopes is an epidemiologist and a former member of the Florida Gov. Jeb Bush administration.

1:20 p.m.

The state called Manatee County School Board member Dr. Scott Hopes as its next expert. He is the sixth person the state has called during today’s hearing.

Hopes supports reporting schools because students were falling behind in reading and math, he said.

“They were rapidly falling behind with e-learning, that’s the one reason why I determined absolutely take the governor’s offer because Manatee County, at the time we had 53-54% of our 3rd graders not reading at grade level,” Hopes said.

12:30 p.m.

Cross-examination resumes with Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a health economist with Stanford University. Attorneys representing the Florida teacher union as asking him about COVID-19 data.

11:45 a.m.

Health economist Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford University who has researched and published journals on medical and health economy, will continue testifying for the state after a 30 minute recess.

The hearing will continue again at 12:15 p.m.

11:13 a.m.

“With the exception of one study, the literature said that schools opening and school closing have very little community effect of the spread of disease,” Bhattacharya says.

10:58 a.m.

Attorney David Wells, who represents the state, asked: “Do lockdowns cure diseases?”

Dr. Bhattacharya: “No, they don’t kill disease. They delay the spread of disease, but they don’t eradicate the disease,” he says.

10:23 a.m.

Health economist Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford University who has researched and published journals on medical and health economy, takes the stand for the state.

“There are real human costs of a lockdown, including people who kill themselves at higher rates . There are no risk-less options,” he says.

9:47 a.m.

“If there is a parent that needs the brick-and-mortar (school) option, then there needs to be that option,” he says.

9:46 a.m.

“There was a recent study that more than 60% in Florida’s prison lack a high school diploma (and) have reading scores that are poor. If the educational supports aren’t there, you are basically feeding into the school to prison pipeline,” Glenton Gilzean says.

9:43 a.m.

Glenton Gilzean, CEO of Central Florida Urban League in Orlando, takes the stand and says he supports the reopening of schools.

“We help at-risk kids with mentoring and educational support, like tutoring,” he says. “Growing up, that is where I was able to get a healthy meal. My mom and dad did as much as they could, but the school was actually a safe haven for me and countless of low-income, minority students face the same struggles.”

9:37 a.m.

Laura Pope says she’s tried to broach the subject of virtual learning -- again -- with her son.

“The anxiety comes in. ‘No, school. No, school!’ and then the iPad goes across the room. I can’t be part of any more damage to my son’s mental well being -- and my own,” she says.

9:30 a.m.

Laura Pope, a mother from Palm Beach Gardens, is called by the state and talks about her son’s experience last semester.

“He doesn’t understand why he is doing school work at home. School is school, home is home. You can get him to do one activity and that is what his threshold was and if you try to do anything live -- like you and I are doing -- he doesn’t understand that,” she says.

9:20 a.m.

Orange County mom Jennifer Tribble talked about her kids possibly contracting COVID-19 in school.

“I’m not saying I’m not afraid. It’s inevitable, and it’s not going anywhere,” she says.

9:17 a.m.

“I had two active kids who never sat down, who never stopped playing and now they are so lazy, and it’s hard to get them out of the house to do anything,” Tribble says.

9:15 a.m.

Jennifer Tribble, an Orange County mother, says she lost revenue because her kids could not go to school.

“I lost my revenue in small business. I couldn’t hire somebody to come in, so I was trying to do all the things and making sure (my children) were staying focused, doing all the things they were supposed to do, so it was tough. It was tough,” she says.

9:05 a.m.

The state’s first witness is Lindsey Arthur, who says she would feel safe returning for face-to-face learning.

“The kids are the kids. They are amazing. They are wonderful, but they need that support with their teacher, paraprofessionals and with their friends to grow and learn, and it just was not possible during our e-learning experience at all,” Arthur says.

9 a.m.

The teachers’ union is fighting to keep schools closed until they are safe to reopen.

7:20 a.m.

Check out News 6 reporter Nadeen Yanes’ recap of Day 1 in the video 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.

7 a.m.

The state is set to lay out its case for sending kids back to school.