Jul 20, 2020 - Health

Florida sets the stage for school and government confrontations

Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida is shaping up as America's bellwether on reopening schools, with teachers unions suing the state on Monday.

Why it matters: The state is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., home to five of America's 10 biggest school districts and governed by an ally of President Trump.

Driving the news: The Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez over a July 6 emergency order that would require all schools to reopen for in-person in August.

  • The lawsuit, which could be the first of its kind, accused DeSantis "of violating a Florida law requiring that schools be 'safe' and 'secure'" and asked for districts and local officials to have control over reopenings, according to the N.Y. Times.
  • “Gov. DeSantis needs a reality check, and we are attempting to provide one,” the union's president said in a statement.

What they're saying: "Clearly the FEA hasn’t read nor understands the Florida Department of Education’s guidance, the Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06, or Florida law," Taryn Fenske, communications director for the Florida Department of Education, said in a statement.

  • "Currently, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida Statute 1001.42 (the law) required K-12 schools 'to operate 180 days' a school year. If you do the math, that equates to 5 days a week for 36 weeks. 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," Fenske said.
  • The mayor's office said it would not comment on pending litigation.

The big picture: Schools open next month, and parents in most districts are facing the difficult limbo of playing full-time provider and full-time teacher to their families for an uncertain duration.

  • That's for the parents who can work from home — many others don't have that ability.

Between the lines: The FEA's national affiliate union, the American Federation of Teachers, also said Monday that 1.4 million public school jobs are at risk without more stimulus.

  • The AFT's report identifies a $93.5 billion funding gap in PreK-12 education and $45 billion in shortfalls in higher education funding, Axios' Fadel Allassan notes.
  • Another $116.5 billion would be needed for equipment to prevent virus spread.

The bottom line: The next 30 days could be one of the most contentious periods in public education in decades.

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