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Judge strikes down Florida order tying schools' funding to reopening

Judge strikes down Florida order tying schools' funding to reopening
Florida schools may reopen in-person classes when they feel it is safe to do so after a Florida judge placed a temporary injunction against a state order on Monday that threatened funding for school districts if they didn't reopen classes by the end of August. Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 25 (UPI) -- A federal judge in Florida ruled against a state order for schools to either open in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic or loss already allotted funding, stating it's unconstitutional as it ignores safety concerns and strips school boards of their decision-making powers.

In a strongly worded decision on Monday, Circuit Judge Charles Dodson imposed a temporary injection against an executive order issued by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on July 6 that ties school districts' funding to reopening classrooms by the end of August.

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Dodson said that the order, and its application, "have essentially ignored the requirement of school safety by requiring the statewide opening of brick-and-mortar schools to receive allocated funding."

The defendants Gov. Ron DeSantis and Corcoran argued that school boards agree with the order as none joined the litigation against them and that more than 60 school districts had already submitted reopening plans.

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However, Dodson said school boards had no choice as their funding was tied to submitting and having reopening plans approved by the state.

"The districts have no meaningful alternative," Dodson wrote. "If an individual school district chooses safety, that is, delaying the start of schools until it individually determines it is safe to do so for its county, it risks losing state funding, even though every student is being taught."

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Dodson's decision allows school boards to make their own decision about re-opening in-person classes without the worry of losing funding.

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Corcoran rejected the court's decision later Monday and said the state would appeal.

"We've said it all along, and we will say it one million times -- we are 100% confident we will win this lawsuit," Corcoran said in a statement. "This fight has been, and will continue to be, about giving every parent, every teacher and every student a choice, regardless of what educational option they choose."

The Florida Education Association, which filed the lawsuit against the state, said it "appreciates" the ruling to place a temporary injunction against the order as its lawsuit continues through the courts.

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"This is only a temporary injunction, but we plan to press ahead in court," FEA President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement. "Local communities should have the freedom to make the best decisions for reopening or keeping open local schools."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union in the country, called the decision "a remarkable victory."

"Today, Judge Dodson saw Florida's unconstitutional executive order for what it was -- a cynical edict that put fealty to President [Donald] Trump over the wellbeing of children and educators," Weingarten said. "The judge ruled that decisions about reopening should be made locally, bot dictated by the state, either directly or through funding decisions."

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