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Judge reinstates school reopening order as appeal process begins

In-person reopenings will continue Monday.

The Department of Education’s order requiring schools to offer in-person classes is back on the books after a judge lifted it temporarily this week.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran appealed a ruling from the Leon County Circuit Court Monday calling the department’s emergency order unconstitutional, setting up a dizzying back and forth this week. By Friday afternoon, the Florida First District Court of Appeal reinstated the order as it prepares to hear the case.

Earlier this month, the Florida Education Association, the state teachers’ union, requested a temporary injunction “to stop the reopening of schools until it is safe to do so.” The union, NAACP and others filed the lawsuit against DeSantis, Corcoran and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez.

With the lower court ruling, schools were free to create their own reopening plans and didn’t need approval from DOE. Most schools districts had already returned anyway, and more districts will reopen Monday under the reinstated rule.

Attorneys for Corcoran and DeSantis immediately filed a notice of appeal to Judge Charles Dodson’s ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal. Under law, that notice of appeal automatically placed a stay on Dodson’s ruling — effectively putting it on hold until the Tallahassee-based appeals court can resolve the case.

Late Tuesday, attorneys for FEA and the Orange County teachers union asked Dodson to lift the stay. The following day, the state’s lawyers argued the stay should remain in place, saying that failing to do so would “sow confusion and disarray” among students, local school officials and families.

President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., waded into the issue Tuesday in a Fox News opinion in which he slammed Dodson and the unions.

“It is unacceptable for Democrats and the activists who control teachers’ unions to put their pursuit of power ahead of the educational needs of our children,” Trump Jr. wrote.

But in a three-page order Thursday, Dodson rejected the state’s arguments, writing that they were essentially a rehash of the state’s case presented during a 2-and-a-half-day hearing last week. And he scolded the state for misrepresenting his temporary injunction.

“It did not order that Florida’s schools statewide be closed. This court does not have authority to enter such an order. What the order did, for the reasons stated, is require that local school districts be given authority under their individual circumstances to open or close the local schools, based on local conditions,” the judge wrote.

The appeals court, made up entirely of members appointed by Republican Governors, on Friday reinstated the stay.

On Thursday, DeSantis was confident the state would come out on top.

“I think we’ll win the appeal, obviously, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it,” he said, addressing reporters after a business roundtable in Tampa.

“Win for Florida’s parents to choose what education works best for their students!” Corcoran tweeted Friday.

The state will file an initial brief by Wednesday evening, according to the court order.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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