In Florida school reopening lawsuit, sides find little agreement

A decision looks distant to students, teachers who already are back in classes.
The 1st District Court of Appeal is considering whether to consolidate various complaints in the challenge over Florida's 2020 school reopening order.
The 1st District Court of Appeal is considering whether to consolidate various complaints in the challenge over Florida's 2020 school reopening order.
Published Sept. 22, 2020

In their battle over the Department of Education’s July school reopening order, lawyers for the Governor’s Office and the Florida Education Association have concurred on one point: Both wanted to see the appeal of the trial judge’s ruling go directly to the state Supreme Court.

The 1st District Court of Appeal didn’t send the case along as requested.

Since then, the sides have returned to their regular disagreements on points large and small, as the state tries to get the case thrown out while the union pushes to get its injunction complaint back on track.

A week ago, the state filed a new set of motions asking the appellate panel to reconsider the union’s standing in the case. The appeal court asked for arguments on whether this motion, seeking dismissal of the matter, should be combined with the appeal of the circuit court ruling in favor of the union’s challenge.

Related: Lawsuit by Florida teachers is still alive. Here’s where things stand.

The opposing attorneys took opposite positions.

In their latest filing, published Monday, the state’s lawyers argued that the questions should be rolled together.

“[T]hey arise from the same underlying cases, involve the same parties, and raise the same threshold legal issues: whether Plaintiff-Appellees have standing to obtain the relief they seek, whether these cases raise nonjusticiable political questions, and whether they are barred by Florida’s Constitutional Separation of Powers,” the lawyers wrote. “Failure to consolidate these actions will only result in a waste of resources and the possibility of inconsistent rulings.”

Leon County circuit judge Charles Dodson rejected the state’s effort to dismiss the case based on standing.

Lawyers for the Florida Education Association contended that the issues should be considered separately.

“Respectfully, while all four appellate cases arise from the same consolidated trial court proceeding, the Injunction Appeals and Certiorari Proceedings involve different procedural postures, different questions, and different standards of review,” they wrote. “The Injunction Appeals address a temporary injunction, warranting expedited and limited review; while the Certiorari Proceedings involve the underlying case on the merits.”

Moreover, they added, the briefings on the injunction appeal are submitted, awaiting an expedited ruling. The question of standing is new.

Other related cases, such as a Pasco County teachers union challenge of its local district reopening plan, remain on hold while the statewide lawsuit churns. Some Palm Beach County teachers recently filed suit to stop their district’s plans to resume classes in person, which began on Monday.

Two Florida school districts — Broward and Miami-Dade — have yet to reopen classrooms for instruction. Their officials are involved in heated debates among themselves, as well as with teachers and parents, over how to proceed.