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Teachers’s Union: School Reopening Threatens Public Safety

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Education Association pressed its case for freezing the state’s school reopening order Wednesday, presenting testimony in a Leon County Circuit Court hearing intended to cast the order as a threat to public health.

What You Need To Know

  • The FEA filed the lawsuit
  • Hearings are being held in Tallahassee
  • Education commissioner said funds could be withheld
  • Lawyers for DeSantis administration to make case Thursday

Fighting back tears, James Lis, a teacher at Orlando’s Dr. Phillips High School, testified that if Orange County Schools proceed with a plan to open classroom doors Friday, he would resign instead of returning to campus amid a pandemic that has turned Florida into a global hot spot of coronavirus cases and deaths.

“I’ve chosen my kids, my students, over so many difficult things, but I can’t put my family at risk,” Lis said. “I can’t put my mother-in-law at risk  —  and it’s a serious risk, and for some reason, some people don’t think it’s a serious risk.  But I do not feel that I would be in a safe environment, for my mother-in-law’s sake. For my sake, too, but more so for her, and I would resign.”

The teachers’s union filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran earlier this month rejected a plan by Hillsborough County Schools to delay reopening classrooms until at least late September. Corcoran told the district’s administrators that flexibility would be offered to districts only insofar as a limited number of campuses could be allowed to keep their doors shuttered.

To enforce the order, Corcoran has threatened to withhold state education dollars from districts that refuse to comply. While part of the FEA suit questions the constitutionality of such a tactic, the union’s lawyers reserved most of their critique Wednesday for what they argue is a clear and present danger to public health posed by asymptomatic spread of the virus in Florida’s schools.

“If it weren’t airborne, we’d all be sitting together in the same room right now, wouldn’t we?” asked Orlando pediatrician Annette Nielsen, a union witness.

Nielsen said Orange County’s hospitals are already overburdened with caring for coronavirus patients and that bed capacity in intensive care units has dwindled below a level that would allow schools to reopen.

“Numbers are going to increase,” she predicted. “You’re going to have kids become sick. You’re going to have teachers become sick. You’re going to have everyone in the school who will have close contact become sick.”

DeSantis administration lawyers will present their case Thursday.

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