Legal challenge to school reopening order hits court Thursday

Tampa Bay Times | By Jeffrey Solocheck |August 5, 2020

Anticipation was high Wednesday as dozens of people logged in to a Zoom conference call where lawyers for the Florida Education Association and Gov. Ron DeSantis were expected to square off over the state’s school reopening order.

Both sides signaled their recognition that time was of the essence to get down to the case details, as parents, teachers, school officials and others are making monumental decisions daily with the classes set to resume. In some counties, that happens in less than a week.

Yet Wednesday was about scheduling those hearings, after the attorneys finish up their motions and responses on the legal issues, which include a question of where the case should be heard alongside the other, more specific concerns about the order.

Judge Spencer Eig set aside an hour at 11 a.m. Thursday to consider the state’s request to relocate the matter to a Leon County court. And he acknowledged that, whatever his decision, it could likely slow the proceedings despite the immediacy of the subject.

If Eig retains the case in his court, attorney Angel Cortinas said his state clients including the governor would ask for a stay so they can appeal. Mark Richards, representing the FEA, said his clients probably would appeal any stay, to keep the case moving.

If Eig agrees to move the case, any further hearings would become the concern of the Leon County judge to whom it is assigned. That would not happen the same day.

Even so, Eig put the remaining motions — one from the state to dismiss the suit, another from the union seeking a temporary injunction against the reopening order — tentatively on his docket to begin at 9 a.m. Friday.

The FEA has argued that the state’s reopening order is unconstitutional, confusing and subject to attack for due process. The state has maintained that the suit is a “misguided effort to obtain a judicial mandate that forbids any school in the state from providing in-person instruction to any student.”

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