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Pasco school reopening lawsuit on hold

In-person classes, which the case aimed to halt, have taken place for two weeks.
United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace announces his group's lawsuit seeking to keep county public schools closed when classes resume Aug. 24.
United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace announces his group's lawsuit seeking to keep county public schools closed when classes resume Aug. 24. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Sep. 3, 2020

The union representing Pasco County school district employees received wide attention in mid-August when it sued to stop classrooms from reopening until local coronavirus conditions settled.

Since then, little has happened to advance the lawsuit.

Related: Pasco school employees union sues to keep classrooms closed

And now United School Employees of Pasco leaders have raised the possibility that it might disappear without ever being heard.

Classes began Aug. 24 both in person and online, with the district reporting 16 positive COVID-19 cases that have led to the quarantines of close to 250 people. Meanwhile, union president Don Peace said, the county’s positivity rate has declined steadily to below 5 percent, “if you can believe the numbers.”

In its suit, the group had asked to keep classrooms closed until the district arrived at those lower levels. The district filed a motion to dismiss the case, contending the union did not have standing to represent the parents and students, and it did not submit any grievances over the district’s reopening plan after participating in its creation.

No hearings have been set.

Peace said he had not discussed the latest activity with the union’s lawyer, to determine next steps in this Pasco-centric complaint. The statewide lawsuit on similar issues also loomed large over the possibilities, he added.

The state has appealed a Leon County Circuit judge’s ruling that the Department of Education overstepped its authority in requiring districts to begin in-person instruction before the end of August. All briefs are due to the 1st District Court of Appeal by Wednesday, after which the court will consider the issues.

It has indicated it wants to act on an expedited basis, and has not signaled if oral arguments will take place.

“My guess is they will move pretty quickly,” said Ron Meyers, the lawyer representing the Florida Education Association, which brought the original legal challenge.

Meyers said the case continued to have significance even though schools have reopened across Florida, because the question of who controls local decisions about daily school operations remains unsettled.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that COVID is just going to disappear, and that schools aren’t going to be affected adversely,” he said. If that time arises, “the question is whether school districts will get to decide (how to respond), or the state.”

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