By Karli Barnett

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is filing a lawsuit against state officials, saying a return to classrooms next month would be unsafe and irresponsible.

The FEA, NAACP, as well as educators in both Broward and Dade Counties, filed the lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis, the Florida Board of Education, the state Education Commissioner, and even Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

“It is ludicrous to think that we would take our children out of these protective bubbles that we’ve created and kept them in for so long and expose them,” says Karla Hernandez-Mats, head of Miami-Dade Teacher’s Union.

“It should be a decision based on public health advice, so we can stop the spread of this virus,” says Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP. “So we can protect families, protect children, and also ensure a quality educational opportunity for all.”

The lawsuit claims a return to in-person learning would violate Florida’s constitution, which says schools must be “safe and secure.”

The second count in the lawsuit asks the court to declare that state officials are “putting arbitrary and capricious demands on public schools through the education commissioner’s unfunded emergency order.”

A third count asks that the state and Gimenez be prevented from forcing millions of teachers and students to physically return to schools which should remain closed during the spike in the pandemic. It wants the court to order the state to implement a “meaningful” online instruction plan with accessible internet connectivity and computers and when schools do reopen, they must have adequate personal protective equipment and other supplies, along with reduced class sizes and social distancing that are in compliance with CDC guidelines.

“We need to ensure that we can social distance in every school,” explains FEA President, Fedrick Ingram. “We need a mask plan that we have not instituted here in the state of Florida. We need to understand what reasonable accommodations are.”

“We surveyed our members and parents,” he continues. “46,000 people responded and only 5% of educators think that workplaces will be ‘very likely safe’ to open this fall.”

Stefanie Miller is a teacher and plaintiff on the suit. She caught COVID-19 and says she does not wish her experience on anyone.

“21 days on a ventilator, two months in the hospital, eight days in rehab,” Miller says. “I’ve been home for six weeks getting physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.”

Governor DeSantis had expressed his desire to see in person learning by August.

“We’ve just got to be guided by the evidence and the data that were put in the interest of kids first and give parents the choices that they deserve,” DeSantis said in a press conference Monday.

These educators do acknowledge some parents may want schools to go back to classroom learning, and to that, they say there is just no guarantee of safety.

“I don’t understand how the numbers can be so high now, and you’re saying open everything up as it was prior,” says Waldo Mirambeau, a teacher in Broward schools. “I just don’t understand the logic of it. I can’t imagine being on a ventilator simply because I went to work.”

At this point, there are no set plans for Broward or Miami-Dade schools. Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie and Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho have both said in the past that 100% in-person learning would be unlikely for the start of the year.

On July 6th, Corcoran ordered schools to reopen in August.

Corcoran, a former House speaker who was tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis to serve as commissioner, issued the emergency order on the same day President Donald Trump tweeted: “SCHOOL MUST OPEN THIS FALL!”

Karli Barnett

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