Teachers union sues to halt Florida classroom restart during pandemic

(Reuters) - A Florida teachers union sued the state on Monday in an effort to halt next month’s planned restart of classroom instruction, which it says poses an “imminent threat to the public health, safety and welfare” of its members, students and parents.

Citing the state’s position as a leading U.S. coronavirus hot spot, the Florida Education Association (FEA) argued in its lawsuit that in-class instruction violates the state constitution’s guarantee of a “safe” education for children.

The union’s complaint against Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other officials asks the state Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County for an emergency order halting classroom in-class instruction to avoid “irreparable harm.”

“The spread of COVID-19 that will result from the unsafe reopening of schools during the surge is not limited to students, teachers, school administrators, or school staff and will undoubtably spread to their families and communities,” the complaint said.

With new coronavirus infections having topped 10,000 per day for nearly a week, Florida has emerged as one of the country’s epicenters for the pandemic in recent weeks.

“The governor needs to accept the reality of the situation here in Florida, where the virus is surging out of control,” association President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement.

The suit also names Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who issued a July 6 order requiring local officials to “open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week” in August for families opting for in-class instruction, as opposed to remote instruction.

Corcoran replied that his order did not lay out any new requirements for 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,” he said in a statement.

The FEA, which has 140,000 members, is affiliated with both national teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, both of which it said support the suit.

Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis