The head of Florida’s largest teacher union said the group sued Gov. Ron DeSantis over his push to reopen schools because "we don't want to be the petri dish for America."
Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, said on NBC's "TODAY" show on Tuesday that with coronavirus cases surging in the state, returning to school buildings in August would not be safe.
Florida has seen a record six days in a row of more than 10,000 new cases each day, with no sign of the surge slowing.
"Any sensible person would tell you we have got to get the positivity rate down," Ingram said, adding that over 23,000 children in the state have tested positive for the virus, showing that it is a risk for young people as well as adults.
"This is a life or death situation," Ingram said. "We don’t want to be reckless; we don’t want to be irresponsible."
The Florida Education Association in the suit filed Monday accused DeSantis and other state officials of violating a state constitutional mandate to keep public schools "safe and secure." The union asked a state court in Miami to halt a reopening edict, according to a copy of the suit obtained by NBC News.
On July 7, Florida's education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, issued an emergency order that all public schools must reopen for in-person classes with students when the academic year begins next month. Corcoran's order, which applies to the fall semester, requires schools to open "at least five days per week for all students," subject to guidance from public health officials.
The governor's office did not immediately respond to an email Tuesday morning requesting comment.
Ingram said teachers are usually excited at this time of year to return to the classroom, but he said he is hearing from many of his union's members who are considering retiring or changing professions in the face of the order to go back into the schools at this time.
"Our schools were built for social interaction, not social distancing," Ingram said.
Florida's schools need more time and money to prepare to reopen safely during the pandemic, the union chief said. "We cannot get the job done under duress."