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Hillsborough Schools to stick with current reopening plan after court decision

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HILLSBOROUGH CO., Fla (WFLA) – The Hillsborough County School District is sticking to its school reopening plan following a judge’s decision to temporarily block an order requiring schools to re-open for in-person learning.

Florida’s largest teacher’s union sued Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Department of Education, and Commissioner Richard Corcoran, saying being forced to return to brick and mortar during a pandemic was a recipe for disaster.

A judge ruled Monday that it was unconstitutional for the state to threaten to withhold funding from districts that don’t comply with the order.

“The districts have no meaningful alternative,” Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson said while ruling in favor of the union. “If an individual school district chooses safety, that is, delaying the start of schools until it individually determines it is safe to do so for its county, it risks losing state funding, even though every student is being taught.”

The judge’s ruling means school districts would be autonomous and puts the power back into the hands of local leaders.

The state has appealed the ruling and the motion is now on pause. The court has 15 days to respond to their appeal.

“There’s nothing the board can really do right now,” Jim Porter, an attorney for the Hillsborough County School Board said at a meeting on Tuesday. “The most conservative thing to do would be to continue to follow the lawsuit and see where it leads.”

Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis said the district plans to stick with its current reopening plan, which was approved by the state earlier this month. The school board previously voted to start school with four weeks of virtual classes, but the state rejected that plan. Students will now have virtual learning for the first week.

“My recommendation would be to continue to plan as previously approved originally, so that we continue to stay within the funding model outlined by the Florida Department of Education,” Davis said. “If [the state’s] appeal is approved and it removes any of the recent injunction, then that means if we continue to pause than we would be out of close to $200 million, and I don’t recommend that at this time.”

Board member Tamara Shamburger told 8 On Your Side the county was being bullied by state leaders.

“I was stunned, I really was stunned,” Shamburger said. “This is not a personal decision, this is based on sound and scientific medical advice that our school buildings should not be opened. I’m thrilled the judge agreed with that.”

“Since this ruling today, we’ve gotten hundreds if not thousands of emails. Constituents have contacted us on social media. Some are happy, some are angry,” she continued.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran released the following statement:

“We’ve said it all along, and we will say it one million times – we are 100% confident we will win this lawsuit. This fight has been, and will continue to be, about giving every parent, every teacher and every student a choice, regardless of what educational option they choose. If you are one of the 1.6 million students who have chosen to return to the classroom, a parent, or a classroom teacher that wanted to educate their student in person, we strongly encourage you to call the Florida Education Association and tell them to drop this frivolous lawsuit.”

-Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran

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