(The Center Square) – Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson’s on-again-off-again injunction prohibiting Florida from mandating that schools reopen full-service classrooms by Aug. 31 or lose funding is on again.
Dodson on Thursday lifted the stay on his injunction, which automatically was imposed Tuesday when the state filed an appeal in the 1st District Court of Appeals challenging his ruling Monday that found Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s order to reopen schools was unconstitutional.
The Florida Education Association (FEA), which spearheaded the lawsuit against Corcoran’s order, filed a motion Wednesday requesting Dodson vacate the stay on his injunction with Aug. 31 only days away.
“Should the automatic stay remain in force pending disposition of the state’s appeal, plaintiffs, hundreds of thousands of school children, teachers, and school staff would be forced to return to school without regard to health and safety considerations,” FEA's motion said. “Plaintiffs presented evidence that teachers throughout the state are deciding whether to retire, resign, or put themselves and their families in harm’s way.”
Dodson agreed, writing in his order that students and staff face “irreparable injury” if his order allowing local school boards to make reopening decisions without the threat of state financial penalty is suspended until the court of appeals issues its verdict on the appeal.
Dodson said the Department of Education's “arbitrary and capricious” implementation of Corcoran’s order justifies why his injunction must remain in place.
“The evidence before the court plainly demonstrates that as a result of the defendants’ unconstitutional action requiring the statewide reopening of schools during the month of August 2020, without local school boards being permitted the opportunity to determine whether it is safe to do so, places people in harm’s way,” he wrote.
The state’s constitution places responsibility for opening and closing schools with locally elected school boards.
"The record reflects that medical determinations must be made at a local level to determine when and if it is safe to reopen a county's brick and mortar schools,” Dodson wrote.
No sooner had the stay been lifted, Department of Education spokesperson Taryn Fenske announced the department and Gov. Ron DeSantis intend to ask the court of appeals to reinstate the automatic stay.
According to a Florida Watch and Progress Florida survey posted this week, Dodson’s order reflects the general tenor of Floridians.
In an Aug. 12-16 survey of 2,310 likely Florida voters by Clarity Campaign Labs, 59 percent of respondents said the risk of opening schools outweighed the benefits of in-person learning, while 33 percent said opening schools is a higher priority than whatever public health concerns their openings may engender.
“In light of Judge Dobson’s ruling, and the overwhelming public sentiment against the risky reopening plan being pushed by DeSantis and Corcoran,” Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferrulo said, “we call on state leaders to drop their appeal, quit playing politics with the lives of our teachers and students, and make health and safety the number one priority so our kids can return to school safely.”
Other findings in the poll showed 50 percent of respondents disapproved of DeSantis’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and 47 percent said he’s done a good job.
Respondents also supported prioritizing public health over restarting the economy by a 52-45 percent margin; 76 percent support a statewide face mask order, and 80 percent want DeSantis to re-extend the eviction moratorium.