ALACHUA COUNTY, FL – A case that’s receiving national attention on the re-opening of Florida schools may have many districts in hot water with their constituents. It’s path, slightly complicated started with a change of venue, followed by a big win for the teachers union and a somewhat unprecedented vacation of the stay on Governor Ron Desantis’ original re-opening order.
It began with and order handed down by Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordering all Florida schools to reopen in August with a 5-day a week brick and mortar option.
The order was challenged by the state’s largest teachers’ union, which wanted to keep schools physically closed, citing public safety and a slew of other claims. The teaches union offered up a convincing and lock-tight argument to keep schools closed.
On Monday the judge ruled in favor of the Florida teachers union, saying school districts should decide if schools will re-open.
An automatic appeal was filed and many expected an automatic stay in the Governors order.
A Leon County judge has thrown out parts of the state's emergency order requiring districts to reopen brick and mortar schools this month. If the state appeals, which is almost certain, the judge's decision will automatically be stayed. We'll keep you posted.
— Alachua Schools (@AlachuaSchools) August 24, 2020
Since the judge's order has been stayed (in other words, it's not in effect), ACPS is moving forward with its existing Reopening Plan, including all 3 options–brick & mortar, Digital Academy & eSchool. https://t.co/2UYvQZgIoh
— Alachua Schools (@AlachuaSchools) August 25, 2020
The Stay was challenged and Judge Dodson Vacated the stay, saying in part:
“Potential irreparable injury will be suffered by hundreds of thousands of school children, many teachers, and the community at large if the temporary injunction order is stayed,” Dodson wrote on Thursday. “The evidence before the Court plainly demonstrates that as a result of the Defendants’ unconstitutional action requiring the statewide reopening of schools during the month of August 2020, without local school boards being permitted the opportunity to determine whether it is safe to do so, places people in harm’s way.”
He continued, “Teachers are resigning or retiring due to the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Young students are being exposed to the virus while there is uncertainty as to the long-term effects of the virus and whether children can transmit the disease to adults.”
Shortly after the ruling, the FEA’s president responded.
“Once again, the state has been turned back in its attempts to bully our districts,” Federick Ingram told Spectrum News.
From Dodson’s order this afternoon: “Potential irreparable injury will be suffered by hundreds of thousands of school children, many teachers, and the community at large if the temporary injunction order is stayed.”
— Troy Kinsey (@TroyKinsey) August 27, 2020
With the stay vacated, individual districts are now liable to make the tough decision to open or not to open their doors during a pandemic.
Despite the majority of their constituents, almost 60 % choosing online options for the first 9 weeks; Alachua County, Florida (home to over 27,000 students) has chosen to continue with re-opening plans.
Following the Vacated Stay The Alachua County School Board Tweeted, “Alachua County Public Schools will be reopening as planned on August 31. We will continue to monitor the situation in Tallahassee and provide updates as we get more information.
Alachua County Public Schools will be reopening as planned on August 31. We will continue to monitor the situation in Tallahassee and provide updates as we get more information.
— Alachua Schools (@AlachuaSchools) August 28, 2020
Hours later seemingly confirming their decision to re-open they tweeted this:
Our Transportation Dept. has set up a phone bank for this Sat & Sun, 9am-1pm to answer transportation questions. The number is (352) 955-7750. Please be patient as we are expecting a high volume of calls. You can also look up your info at https://t.co/B5TDC6ahaX
— Alachua Schools (@AlachuaSchools) August 28, 2020
Multiple teachers both locally and statewide have pushed to at least start the school year with the first nine weeks online, as noted by the Gainesville Sun.
Once constituent begged the school board to do the right thing.
— Janis… (@janisexton) August 28, 2020
The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and others reputable sources have noted the dangers of asymptomatic COVID-19 spread identifying the following:
“Recent epidemiologic, virologic, and modeling reports support the possibility of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission from persons who are presymptomatic (SARS-CoV-2 detected before symptom onset) or asymptomatic (SARS-CoV-2 detected but symptoms never develop). SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the absence of symptoms reinforces the value of measures that prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 by infected persons who may not exhibit illness despite being infectious.“
With more information coming available, Alachua County’s system seems completely unprepared to stop the spread in the described manner, possibly opening the door to lawsuits both short term to challenge re-opening and long term following a family death or educators death linked to a school transmission.
Here is Alachua County’s most recent plan which included desk partitions and a containment room for children.
4 of the 5 board members responsible for the decision to reopen are listed below.
UPDATE: 8/29/2020 Florida’s largest teachers’ union victory on reopening schools short-lived as appeals judge reinstates emergency stay.
Save the link for IMMEDIATE updates.