TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Closing arguments wrapped up Friday in a lawsuit to keep Florida’s public schools closed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The state’s largest teachers union says lives are at risk.
Online learning starts Monday in Hillsborough County. One week later, on Aug. 31, some teachers and kids will be back in the classroom.
The lawsuit from the teachers union claims it’s not safe to reopen classrooms right now.
“Are the schools safe to reopen? The short answer is I don’t know,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said.
After three days and 18 hours of testimony, the teachers union and the state wrapped up their final arguments on Friday.
Attorneys for the Florida Education Association pleaded with the judge to keep public schools closed. They say districts are being forced to reopen or lose millions in state funding.
“We believe you are in the best position to prevent avoidable death,” said Billy Wieland, an attorney representing the teachers. “We don’t have those green light conditions which are 5% positivity.”
Attorneys representing teachers say there’s evidence the virus spreads between children and adults.
They say it won’t be safe until positivity rates drop below 5%. On Friday, across Florida, the overall percent positivity was nearly 7%.
“The mitigation tactics haven’t been mentioned,” said Mr. Wieland. “That includes training, proper contact tracing, proper ventilation, air filters, cleaning.”
In the meantime, the state is defending its reopening order. They say the COVID-19 risk is not great enough to keep schools closed.
“There’s no reference anywhere to a 5% standard,” said attorney David Wells. “There’s detailed guidance from the CDC on how to open.”
The state has said reopening decisions are supposed to be made with advice from local health officials. But, throughout this trial, DOH officials have repeatedly said they would not advise schools whether it is safe to reopen.
We expect the judge will issue a ruling early next week.
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