TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Lawyers for the Florida Education Association and the DeSantis administration delivered their closing arguments Friday in a lawsuit aimed at blocking the state's order that public schools must be reopened five days a week by August 31.

What You Need To Know

  • Judge told both sides to submit final proposed orders by noon Saturday

  • FEA: Local school districts should decide when to reopen

  • State: It's constitutionally mandated to offer high quality education for all

Judge Chuck Dodson told both sides to submit their final proposed orders by no later than noon Saturday and to submit their first drafts of no more than 15 pages by 5 p.m. Friday. He said he expects to issue a ruling by early next week.

The teachers's union is asking the state to return control of the decision to reopen schools to local school boards. It said the Florida constitution assigns that right to local administrators, and the state's order takes away that power.

Union attorney Kendall Coffey said the mandated reopening of the school by August 31 is arbitrary. The union said it endangers students, teachers, and their families because the positivity rate for COVID-19 in many districts remains significantly higher than the 5 percent recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and most local health officials to safely reopen schools.

Kendall argued that the disease is very contagious and deadly and that forcing students and teachers back into classrooms increases the likelihood of causing a new spike in cases.

Attorney David Wells, representing the Florida Department of Education, said a decision to block its return-to-school order would prevent the state from carrying out its constitutional mandate to provide safe and high equality education for all. He said some students require an in-classroom environment to meet special needs, and others need the food programs provided at the schools. He said the teachers's union is trying to make the decision for the state's 67 school districts.

He also indicated that it would be very difficult to "flip the switch" and keep the schools shuttered so close to the mandated August 31 restart date.

State lawyers indicated that schools districts have the option to choose to keep students in virtual learning and teachers can take unpaid leave if there are concerns about the plan to reopen schools by August 31. He said health officials could recommend that the schools remain closed.

Dodson, the judge, pointed out that the Florida Department of Health does not give advice on whether schools should be open. He asked whether school districts do have the power to make the final decision to remain closed or reopen. He pointed out that Education Secretary Richard Corcoran had told Hillsborough County that funding for its schools could be withheld if the district does not reopen public schools five days a week by August 31.