Florida teachers worried about returning to the classroom during the coronavirus pandemic won a legal battle Monday with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wants to reopen schools by the end of the month.
Declaring that the state "essentially ignored the requirement for school safety" by insisting that teachers resume in-person education, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson issued a temporary injunction blocking the order, ruling in favor of the Florida Education Association.
"The districts have no meaningful alternative," Dodson said in his ruling. "If an individual school district chooses safety, that is, delaying the start of schools until it individually determines it is safe to do for its county, it risks losing state funding, even though every student is being taught."
The state Education Department's order, which was issued July 6, overrode local school boards' rights to operate their own schools, Dodson ruled.
Dodson noted that after Hillsborough County, on the advice of local health experts, voted this month to delay reopening for four weeks, it was threatened with the loss of $23 million in monthly state aid by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
"They had no real choice," Dodson wrote. "Defendants arbitrarily prioritized reopening schools statewide in August over safety and the advice of health experts; and all school districts complied in order to avoid a drastic loss of State funding."
There was no immediate response from the state. The Tampa Bay Times reported that it is likely to appeal the ruling.
DeSantis pushed to reopen school classrooms at the urging of President Donald Trump and as Florida was about to be hit with a wave of new coronavirus cases and deaths.
Florida is behind California and Texas with more than 602,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and it is in fifth place behind New York, New Jersey, California and Texas with 10,461 deaths, according to the latest NBC News figures.