TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The hearing continued Thursday, in Florida’s largest teacher union’s lawsuit against the Florida Department of Education.
The Florida Education Association is suing Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Department of Education, and Commissioner Richard Corcoran after they ordered schools to open for in-person learning by the end of the month.
On Thursday, the union laid out its case for keeping schools closed. Witnesses tried to prove that local districts are being forced to either make unsafe reopening decisions or face the threat of losing millions in state funding.
“My understanding of the testimony from the medical experts was that it was simply unsafe to open our school building – or any building, for anyone – at that time,” said Hillsborough County School Board member Tamara Shamburger.
Teacher James Lis gave a tearful testimony, telling a judge he would be forced to resign if he can’t teach virtually because he helps care for his mother-in-law who is 81. Lis said he would be in a “very small (portable) classroom with poor ventilation.”
“I’ve chosen my students for so many difficult things. But I can’t put my family at risk,” he said. “I would resign.”
“This case is not about teachers or educators who don’t want to go to work and don’t want to be with students, teachers love going to class. But, of course, they don’t want to do it that will jeopardize their safety,” said Kendall Coffey, an attorney who represents the FEA.
On Thursday, the judge heard from the state’s witnesses.
Teacher Lindsay Arthur told the judge she felt safe returning for in-person learning.
“The kids are the kids. They are amazing. They are wonderful, but they need that support with their teacher, paraprofessionals and with their friends to grow and learn, and it just was not possible during our e-learning experience at all,” she said.
“I lost my revenue in small business,” said Jennifer Tribble, an Orange County mother and businesswoman.”I was trying to do all the things and making sure (my children) were staying focused, doing all the things they were supposed to do, so it was tough.”
Another mom, Laura Pope spoke of her son’s struggle with virtual learning. Pope’s son has autism.
“The anxiety comes in. ‘No, school. No, school!’ and then the iPad goes across the room. I can’t be part of any more damage to my son’s mental well-being and my own,” the mother said.
Glenton “Glen” Gilzean Jr., CEO of the Central Florida Urban League said school closures could hurt at-risk kids.
“There was a recent study that more than 60% in Florida’s prison lack a high school diploma (and) have reading scores that are poor. If the educational supports aren’t there, you are basically feeding into the school to prison pipeline,” Gilzean said.
Jay Bhattacharya is a professor of medicine at Stanford Medicine, was also called to testify.
“With the exception of one study, the literature said that schools opening and school closing have very little community effect of the spread of disease,” Bhattacharya said.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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