Fla. Teachers Union Sues Governor: 'We Don't Want to Be the Petri Dish' for Reopening Schools
Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram called it a "life or death situation" as cases in Florida continue to surge
As officials in Florida continue to push for schools to reopen despite a surge in coronavirus cases, local teachers are fighting back with a lawsuit as they argue that sending kids back to class would be “reckless” and “irresponsible.”
The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, filed suit against Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday, urging him and other state officials to put a halt to the “unsafe” reopening of public schools.
“This is a nonsensical argument that we’re having,” Fedrick Ingram, the union’s president, told the TODAY show on Tuesday. “Any sensible person would tell you that we’ve got to get the positivity [testing] rate down. And we don’t know what the fallout is going to be when you start to cram hundreds of thousands of children in our schools.”
Florida has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, and has recorded more than 10,000 new cases per day over the last six days, according to NBC News.
The suit comes following an executive order issued by Florida’s education commissioner Richard Corcoran that requires public schools to be open at least five days per week for in-person classes, subject to guidance from state and local health officials.
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Ingram said that due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, sending kids, teachers and other staff back to school would be a “life or death situation.”
“The commissioner and our governor gave the community at large a choice, to go to the beaches, to be reckless at bars, to be reckless at restaurants. We cannot simply get this wrong in our public schools,” he said. “There are 2.8 million children that are depending on us to get this right… We don’t want to be reckless, we don’t want to be irresponsible, and we want to teach.”
He said that while teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and more are typically excited during the weeks leading up to the first day of school, this year has been different, as a lack of funding would mean they’d be forced to work without personal protective equipment and without a means of regulating social distancing among children.
“We simply cannot get the job done under duress,” Ingram said. “And we should not be fearing for our own lives going back into a school building.”
“Unfortunately, our governor is okay with us being the petri dish for America,” he added.
In a press release announcing the lawsuit, Ingram said Gov. DeSantis was in need of a “reality check,” which the suit intended to provide.
Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education are also among the defendants named in the lawsuit. Reps for the parties, including Gov. DeSantis, did not immediately return PEOPLE's requests for comment, but Corcoran argued in a statement shared with ABC News that the FEA did not "read" or "understand" the executive order, and called the lawsuit "frivolous [and] reckless."
"This E.O. did not order any new directives regarding the requirements of schools to be open, it simply created new innovative options for families to have the CHOICE to decide what works best for the health and safety of their student and family. Additionally, the order created guaranteed funding for districts and schools to educate innovatively, as long as they continue to provide all students, especially at-risk students, with a world-class education, no matter what option they choose. The FEA frequently states that schools are underfunded, and if this frivolous, reckless lawsuit, succeeds it will eliminate these funding guarantees -- completely contradicting their normal outcry," he said.
The legal action has seen support from various other teachers’ unions, as well as actual teachers, like Stefanie Miller.
Miller spent 21 days on a ventilator after testing positive for COVID-19, and has been a teacher in Broward County for 22 years, according to CNN.
“I don’t wish this on anyone,” she reportedly said at a virtual news conference in support of the suit. “I, of course, want to go back to teaching, but it needs to be safe. There’s no way that children can sit in their seat for six hours, wearing a mask and not feel the stress of this situation. Teaching online is not optimal, but it’s best to keep teachers, personnel and families safe.”
Back in June, DeSantis, a first-term Republican, announced that the state planned to opened public schools at “full capacity” in the fall, according to Florida Today.
"Getting back on our feet in the school year, I think, is going to be really, really important for the well-being of our kids, but I also think it's important for a lot of parents, who have had to juggle an awful lot over these last couple of months," he said at the time. “We want to empower not just the superintendents but all of the local stakeholders to be able to craft a solution that makes the most sense for that area."
As of Tuesday afternoon, Florida has seen at least 360,386 cases and 5,071 deaths attributed to coronavirus, according to The New York Times.
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