Florida Teachers Union, State Going to Mediation Over Gov. Ron DeSantis’s School Reopening Mandate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Getty Images)

The Florida Education Association and the state go to mediation Tuesday over the union’s challenge to an order reopening schools for in-person learning.

On Friday, a circuit court judge in Leon County turned down a motion from the state to dismiss the case. The union filed the lawsuit in late July, after Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran stipulated that students and teachers must return to school buildings for the new academic year. Parents are allowed to opt out, and districts are offering virtual learning models to accommodate them.

Corcoran joined President Donald Trump last week at an event highlighting families and teachers who favor in-person learning. Corcoran called the union “disgraceful” and said teachers want to be in the classroom.

“Even if they have an underlying condition, they want to be back, and that’s what we’re seeing in Florida,” he said. “And when we get to Aug. 31 — all the districts open up — we’re going to have probably 70 to 80 percent of students in face-to-face options, and we’ll have more than that percentage in teachers in the classroom with their students. And there’s just no substitute for it.”

The state has threatened to withhold funding for students not in the classroom. Last week, Hillsborough County Public Schools — which had tried to delay the start of in-person attendance for a month — reduced remote learning to one week in the face of resistance from the state.

In the union lawsuit, hearings are set for Wednesday and Thursday should mediation fail. The union argues that rates of positive coronavirus test results are still above the threshold of 5 percent for a two-week period that public health experts recommend. They note that cases among children are increasing and that other states, such as Georgia, have had to close classrooms and quarantine students and staff members soon after reopening.

While COVID-19 positivity rates in Florida are on the decline, Hillsborough County’s dashboard still shows a rate of over 8 percent, higher than the recommended threshold.

Also on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said cases of COVID-19 among children “have been steadily increasing” since March and were probably low initially, compared with adults, because schools shut down. Hospitalizations among children are also increasing, the CDC report said.

“Comparing trends in pediatric infections before and after the return to in-person school and other activities may provide additional understanding about infections in children,” the CDC said.

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