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Florida Education Association sues to stop emergency order that would reopen classrooms

The FEA made an official announcement Monday afternoon.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Education Association (FEA) announced a lawsuit aimed to stop the state's emergency order to reopen physical school classrooms five days a week starting in August.

On July 6, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education issued an emergency order to require schools across the state to reopen brick and mortar buildings for students, teachers and staff at the start of the new school year in August. 

The buildings must be open five days a week for students. 

Since the order was issued, the FEA has released a petition urging Gov. DeSantis to keep school buildings closed until community spread of COVID-19 is "well below 10 percent" and "heed the advice of medical professionals."

RELATED: Florida orders all schools to offer 5-day-a-week, on-campus learning option

The petition goes on to say that once community spread is down below 10 percent, the state must provide school districts with needed resources and support to properly and safely reopen brick and mortar buildings. That FEA says that includes the following:

  • The ability to keep class sizes small enough for proper social distancing of 6 feet.
  • The ability to quickly check temperatures of all students and staff.
  • The ability to limit access to school campuses to only students and staff.
  • The ability to reduce the number of students on buses to allow for social
    distancing.
  • The ability to have touch-free hand sanitizer stations in every classroom and office as well as multiple stations in cafeterias and other large common areas, plus refills that are readily available.
  • The availability of plenty of soap and paper towels.
  • The ability to sanitize school buses after each route and entire schools every 2
    hours.
  • The ability to change lunch routines to allow for proper social distancing of 6 feet.
  • The ability to properly train all students and staff on ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The FEA asserts the state's order is a violation of Florida's Constitution, which does not promote a "safe" and "secure" school, and that the state is "putting arbitrary and capricious demands" on schools.

"We do not want to be the petri dish for the nation," FEA President Fedrick Ingram said. "We do not want to experiment with our classrooms to see if it will be a super spreader event or not. We are not going to stand for that, and we are not going to back down."

The FEA isn't alone in its urgings for state and education leaders to delay reopening school buildings. 

Several teachers unions across the state, including here in the Tampa Bay area, have written to the governor asking him to delay schools from physically opening until COVID-19 is brought under control and to also have a plan to reopen buildings safely.

In response, the Florida Department of Education said, in part, the FEA "hasn't read nor understands the ... guidance (and) emergency order."

"This (executive order) 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," its statement reads. "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."

Speaking Monday in Orlando, DeSantis said families should have as many options as possible.

"Let's try to give parents choices, do what's best for kids and let's also recognize, although I don't think the school children are the primary vectors of spread, any employment situation, you got to take precautions to make sure people are protected," he said.

RELATED: Here’s what a pediatric infectious disease doctor says about DeSantis' claim kids' COVID risk is 'incredibly low'

Several Tampa Bay area school districts are delaying the start of school in light of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. Both Polk and Sarasota County schools are pushing back their start dates.

On Sunday, Florida reported the state had surpassed 350,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases since March. Since then, 5,091 people have died after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Since the start of July, the state hasn't seen a new daily case total of less than 6,000. In fact, that hasn't happened since June 28.

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