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School opening decision in judge’s hands

Published: Aug. 21, 2020 at 4:25 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A six-year-old has become the eighth child to die with COVID-19 complications.

The death was contained in the daily report from the Florida Department of Health.

The announcement came as lawyers were arguing whether children back in the classroom posed a threat to not only themselves, but the community.

The death of the six-year-old was recorded this past Monday, but not reported until Friday.

An hour after the announcement, lawyers urged a judge to keep Florida classrooms from opening.

“Our most precious human value, our children, packing them into a disease factory,” said Florida Education Association attorney Kendall Coffey.

Over the past two days, there have been 18 hours of testimony.

A biology teacher told the court he was being forced to go back to work, despite a statement from the governor to the contrary.

“What happens to that teacher then?” asked Circuit Judge Charles Dobson.

“I think that teacher can take medical leave under the Florida medical leave act,” replied David Wells, attorney for the Florida Department of Education.

“Unpaid medical leave, right?” asked Dobson.

“I don’t think there’s any question, your honor,” replied Wells.

The order opening classrooms does provide for local control, but Hillsborough County was told it would lose millions in lost state revenue if it delayed opening past August 31.

“The day-to-day decisions to open or close a school must always rest locally,” said Judge Dobson.

“And even though they say there should be local input and local control, that’s not happening. And they’ve essentially held hostage local school boards to insure they open by August 31,” said Billy Wieland, an attorney representing parents and teacher in the case.

The union wants the judge to invalidate the July order that requires classrooms to open by the end of the month.

If he were to agree, that control would then go back to local districts without fear of losing money.

The state argues it's already too late.

“The schools have reopened, and the remainder are reopening,” said Wells.

The judge also took notice that local health departments have refused to offer guidance on classrooms reopening.

A ruling is expected early next week.

If the judge rules against the state and it appeals, the ruling would automatically be put on hold.

If he rules against the teachers and union, there is no automatic stay.

Copyright 2020 WCTV. All rights reserved.

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