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Hearing set for Thursday in teachers' union lawsuit to stop schools from reopening

The Florida Education Association is asking a judge to stop the state's education commissioner from reopening schools for in-person learning amid the pandemic.

MIAMI — At a virtual status hearing Wednesday afternoon, Judge Spencer Eig out of Miami scheduled hearings for motions related to the lawsuit over Florida's executive order to open all school buildings for the 2020-2021 school year.

The first hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday regarding the motion by the defense to "transfer the venue," essentially taking the lawsuit to a different county. The original lawsuit was filed in Miami-Dade.  All other motions to dismiss the case are scheduled for Friday but likely won't happen.

Angel Cortinas, the attorney representing Governor DeSantis and the commissioner of education, Richard Corcoran said if the motion to transfer venue is not granted, he'll appeal the decision. If the motion is granted, Judge Eig will no longer preside over the case, therefore eliminating the need to schedule future hearings.

Attorneys from both sides decided to schedule the hearings anyway given the urgency of the case with some Florida school districts opening as early as next week.

"These are life and death, no do-over decisions. We would think the court, the governor, the commissioner of education would like our day in court so teachers and parents can get the direction of where we’re heading," said Mark Richard, an attorney representing the Florida Education Association.

RELATED: Florida's largest teachers' union gets emergency hearing in lawsuit to stop schools from reopening

In mid-July, the Florida Education Association sued Gov. Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Board of Education.

The lawsuit claims the state's emergency order to reopen physical school classrooms five days a week violates the Florida Constitution, which mandates safety and security in public schools. The union wants a declaratory judgment that the state's directive to open brick and mortar schools is a violation of due process because they argue safety cannot be guaranteed as COVID-19 deaths and confirmed cases continue to climb statewide.

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."