Here’s what the teachers union lawsuit decision means for Central Florida schools

Judge strikes down state mandate requiring 'brick and mortar' schools to reopen

ORLANDO, Fla. – In a groundbreaking decision Monday, a judge sided with Florida’s largest teachers union ruling that Florida’s mandate to require schools to provide in-person instruction during the coronavirus pandemic is unconstitutional.

The Florida Education Association, or FEA, along with a number of other organizations filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the state alleging reopening schools during the pandemic was unsafe. Last week, both sides presented their cases during a three-day hearing.

Ultimately, the judge said the decision to reopen a school must always rest locally with school boards, issuing a temporary injunction to allow school boards to make safety determinations without financial penalty.

Orange and Seminole counties have already reopened their schools. Osceola, Lake, Sumter, Marion, Brevard and Flagler counties started class Monday.

“A lot of the issues people are frustrated with today are because of the illogical mandate that was thrust upon us by the threat of losing $22.5 million dollars a month,” OCPS school board member Karen Castor Dentel.

[RELATED STORY: COVID-19 cases continue to decline as 6 Central Florida school districts begin in-person learning]

The judge’s decision now allows school boards to decide whether they want to close brick and mortar schools locally or continue with the plans they have in place.

“This is a great opportunity to hand the board of education the opportunity to come through on their prior words and promises to listen to the concerns of teachers,” Kathryn Hammond OCPS Teacher and Plaintiff said.

News 6 reached out to local school districts to see if they plan on changing their strategy. Several school districts said they are reviewing the judges order and it’s too early to say.

Read their responses below:

Sumter County

The assistant superintendent of Sumter County says they don’t foresee a change of plans after the FEA lawsuit decision. The district plans to keep its schools open.

Marion County

A spokesperson with the Marion County school district pointed to their delayed start date, saying they’ve started the school year two weeks after originally planned.

“We look forward to 169 more days of productive learning with our students, both in traditional and online classrooms,” the spokesperson said.

Flagler County

“Flagler Schools had a successful start of our 2020-21 school year today with our three learning options for our families,” a spokesperson with the district said Monday.

Flagler plans to continue offering face-to-face, virtual and remote-live choices for students and families.

Orange County

During a news conference Monday afternoon, Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins said district officials haven’t had enough time to review the ruling but during a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, it will likely be discussed. She was unable to answer questions about the ruling. She noted that it’s possible a stay or appeal could be issued.

“So the board actually has a regular board meeting tomorrow, it’ll be their first opportunity to have any discussion around this ruling that has just come down,” Jenkins said. “Here’s the thing: I think they will be hard-pressed to make an immediate decision because there may be a stay that comes down, and of course, there may be an appeal that comes down, so we want to be well advised before making an immediate reaction that might then be overturned.”

Seminole County

Seminole County Public Schools are open and the district will review the order before deciding if the ruling will impact the current options.

“Currently, we’re awaiting our legal counsel to review and respond. However, at this point in time, it doesn’t appear this impacts us much now that we’ve already opened,” SCPS Communications Director Michael Lawrence said in an email.

Osceola County

“The Osceola School District will continue to offer three options: face-to-face learning, digital learning, and Osceola Virtual School,” a spokesperson said.

Volusia County

“We are waiting for more information at this time,” a district spokeswoman said.

This story will be updated as more school districts respond.