IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE ELEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
IN AND FOR MIAMI DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA
CIRCUIT CIVIL DIVISION
FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION; STEFANIE
BETH MILLER; LADARA ROYAL; MINDY FESTGE;
VICTORIA DUBLINO-HENJES; and, ANDRES HENJES,
RON DESANTIS, in his official capacity as Governor of the
State of Florida; RICHARD CORCORAN, in his official
capacity as Florida Commissioner of Education; FLORIDA
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; FLORIDA BOARD OF
EDUCATION; CARLOS GIMENEZ, in his official capacity
as Mayor of Miami-Dade County,
Case No. ______________
COMPLAINT FOR VIOLATION OF FLORIDA CONSTITUTION: PUBLIC SCHOOLS
MUST BE REOPENED SAFELY FOR ON-SITE INSTRUCTIONAL OPERATIONS
Plaintiffs the FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, STEFANIE BETH MILLER,
LADARA ROYAL, MINDY FESTGE, VICTORIA DUBLINO-HENJES, and ANDRES
HENJES sue Defendants RON DESANTIS, in his official capacity of Governor of the State of
Florida; RICHARD CORCORAN, in his official capacity of Commissioner of Education;
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; FLORIDA BOARD OF EDUCATION
(COLLECTIVELY “THE STATE GOVERNMENT DEFENDANTS”); CARLOS GIMENEZ in
his official capacity as Mayor of Miami-Dade County, and allege as follows:
1. Tragically, Florida, is now an international epicenter of the lethal and unforgiving
novel coronavirus. The virus has no boundaries—including impacting our state’s public schools,
a centerpiece of our society and democracy. The Florida Constitution is clear: public school onsite instruction and operations must be opened safely. The Florida Constitution mandates
Filing # 110470015 E-Filed 07/20/2020 11:48:11 AM
“[a]dequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality
system of free public schools.” Fla. Const. Art. IX, § 1. The Defendants’ unconstitutional handling
of their duties has infringed upon this mandate and requires the courts to issue necessary and
appropriate relief. Florida students, parents, teachers, and the public deserve and are
constitutionally entitled to the protections needed to assure a lawful and safe reopening.
2. Plaintiffs bring this suit to safeguard the health and welfare of Florida public school
students, educators, staff, parents, and the general public, including residents of Miami-Dade
County, following the failure to take the necessary steps to mitigate community spread of the
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), as set forth in the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”)
guidelines. The CDC guidelines provide the most authoritative criteria for the safe reopening of a
broad range of facilities, operations, and activities, including schools. Even so, without a rational basis
for ignoring the CDC guidelines, the State Government Defendants are requiring millions of public
school employees and students to physically return to brick and mortar schools in August amidst
a drastic resurgence of COVID-19 cases. Defendants, Governor DeSantis, Commissioner
Corcoran, Department of Education, and Board of Education’s arbitrary, dangerous, and
unconstitutional actions in the midst of the pandemic create an imminent threat to the public health,
safety and welfare.
3. An actual controversy currently exists between the Plaintiffs and the Defendants.
4. Absent the requested relief, schools across the state will continue their current
planning and actions to unsafely reopen face-to-face operations in the next weeks to the injury and
detriment of all Florida citizens. Emergency relief is needed from this Court to protect the
community from Defendants’ arbitrary and unconstitutional actions and omissions.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
5. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to Fla. Stat. §§ 26.012(2)(c) and § 86.011.
6. Venue is proper in Miami-Dade County, Florida, as causes of action accrued in
Miami-Dade County. Fla. Stat. §§ 47.011 and 47.021.
7. Plaintiff FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION (“FEA”) is an organization
comprised of more than 140,000 education employees including teachers, educational support
professionals, psychologists, counselors, social workers, registered nurses, speech therapists,
media specialists, deans, custodial employees, food service employees, technical support
professionals, and occupational therapists in the public-school districts through the State of
Florida. The FEA advocates on behalf of its members including their right pursuant to Article I,
Section 6 of the Florida Constitution to bargain collectively over wages, hours, and other terms
and conditions of employment. The FEA, as the leading voice of educators and school staff in
Florida, is affiliated with the largest national teachers’ unions in America, the American Federation
of Teachers (“AFT”) and the National Education Association (“NEA”). As a result of these
bargaining rights, local teacher organizations throughout Florida have collective bargaining
agreements with local school boards.
8. Plaintiff Stefanie Beth Miller is a second-grade teacher at Fox Trail Elementary, a
public school in Broward County, Florida. Plaintiff Miller relied on the trial COVID-19 drug to
stay alive after she spent two months in the hospital, and 21 days on a ventilator in a medically
induced coma, upon contracting COVID-19. She has continued with occupation and speech
therapy ever since.
9. Plaintiff Ladara Royal is an African American resident of Orange County who has
been employed by Orange County Public Schools for two years and is currently an educator at
South West Middle School. Prior to that, he was a teacher in North Carolina. Plaintiff Royal has
asthma and suffers from an auto immune disease that puts him at an increased risk of experiencing
serious complication from COVID-19. Further, the CDC has advised that, due to long-standing
systemic health and social inequities, African Americans and other minorities are at increased risk
of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness or death from the disease.
10. Plaintiff Mindy Festge is a parent, educator, and resident of Miami-Dade County.
Her husband, Don Festge, is also a Miami-Dade public school teacher and they have both been
employed by Miami-Dade County Public Schools for over 28 years. Her son is an incoming senior
attending a Miami-Dade high school; he was diagnosed with a chronic digestive disorder and has
a compromised immune system—it is not safe for him to return to school amid the spike of
11. Plaintiffs Victoria Dublino-Henjes and Andres Henjes are the parents of two
elementary public-school students in Pinellas County. Both of their children suffer from
respiratory issues and are at higher risk of serious complications if exposed to this deadly virus.
12. Defendant Ron DeSantis is the duly elected Governor of the State of Florida in
which the supreme executive power is vested and “is responsible for meeting the dangers presented
to this state and its people by emergencies.” Const. Art. IV, § 1; Fla. Stat. § 252.36(1)(a). He is
the chief public official overseeing Florida’s coronavirus response, including during the current
crisis which has witnessed an unprecedented re-emergence of the pandemic.
13. Defendant Richard Corcoran is Florida Commissioner of Education appointed by
the State Board of Education to serve as the Executive Director of the Department of Education.
Const. Art. IX, § 1; Fla. Stat. § 20.15(1). Along with the State Board of Education, the
Commissioner is charged with assigning the divisions of the Department of Education with “such
powers, duties, responsibilities, and functions as are necessary to ensure the greatest possible
coordination, efficiency, and effectiveness of education for students in K-20 education.” Fla. Stat.
§ 20.15(5). He is the education official who is acting to direct local school boards to decide to
reopen schools without adherence to the constitutional mandate of maintaining safe and secure
14. Defendant, Florida Department of Education is the administrative agency
responsible for implementing the education policies and programs promulgated by the State of
Florida. See Fla. Stat. § 20.15.
15. Defendant State Board of Education is the head of the Department of Education
and the government body charged with supervision of the state’s public education system. Fla.
Const. Art. IX, § 1; Fla. Stat. § 20.15(1).
16. Defendant Carlos Gimenez is the Chief Executive Officer of Miami-Dade County.
Miami-Dade County Code, Subchapter A, Art. 4, Section 4(g). As county mayor, just as the
equivalent lead administrators of all 67 Florida counties, he has the primary responsibility for local
government efforts to control community spread of the lethal virus. The Office of the County
Mayor has issued multiple emergency orders to restrict potentially dangerous activities based on
manifest perils of COVID-19. Accordingly, this position embodies the highest level of local
authority with respect to public health determinations concerning the pandemic. Additionally, the
Office of the Mayor is responsible for providing real-time data on the metrics to the local school
board and superintendent so that they may be best informed on the manner in which to safely
reopen schools. Such data includes, but is not limited to, rates of spread, rates of new cases,
available ICU beds, location and availability of personal protective equipment (“PPE”), rates of
public safety violations, and access to timely testing including results and positivity rates. In each
Florida county there exists a public official that performs these functions so as to assist school
boards and superintendents in reaching local decisions regarding the physical re-opening of public
17. Florida is facing an unprecedented surge of COVID-19, a severe acute respiratory
illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, that can spread among humans through respiratory transmission and
spreads easily from person to person, even when an infected person shows no symptoms of the virus.
People of all ages with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, and
adults who are 65 years old and older, are at higher risk of developing severe illness resulting in death.
However, this virus has not discriminated and has resulted in serious illness and death to people of
all ages, including those without underlying medical conditions and children.
18. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), the virus is
thought to spread mainly from person-to-person “between people who are in close contact with
one another (within about 6 feet)[, and t]hrough respiratory droplets produced when an infected
person coughs, sneezes or talks.”1 It is understood that the virus can be spread by human contact
with surfaces contaminated with droplets containing the virus.
19. The threat of COVID-19, and the response of the federal government, as well as
local and state governments throughout the country, is well-documented. Since March 1, 2020 the
number of reported COVID-19 cases in the United States has increased from 85 to almost 3.7 million
cases and 139,659 deaths.2 These numbers increase daily.
ii. Florida COVID-19 Resurgence is Remarkable and Out of Control
20. As of the morning of July 14, 2020, there were 291,629 Florida residents who tested
positive for COVID-19.3 These numbers only include individuals who have been tested for the novel
COVID-19, and the actual level of infection is expected to be much higher. Over 77,000 of those
cases were reported just last week, including the July 12 nationwide record of over 15,000 cases in a
21. On the week ending July 12, 2020, Florida reported 511 additional deaths. The
previous highest weekly number of deaths was 342 in early May.5 The average number of COVID19 related deaths in Florida has soared to 81 people a day and is expected to increase as health experts
have repeatedly cautioned that there is a lag between infection rate increases and hospitalizations and
22. Contrary to initial suggestions, children are at risk of contracting and spreading the
virus, and of developing severe illness resulting in death. As of July 9, 2020, the Florida Department
of Health reported over 17,000 cases in children under 18 years old, 213 hospitalizations, and 4
deaths.7 The harsh reality is that Florida had a 31% positivity test rate among children as of last week.
The adverse medical impact on our children is currently being studied and observed.
3 Id. 4 https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/florida-sets-single-day-record-for-coronavirus-deaths-with-132-adds-9100-
g7hrr2fjqvdyvpvkyxyrzbfzmi-story.html 6 https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/florida-sets-single-day-record-for-coronavirus-deaths-with-132-adds-9100-
new-cases/2261956/ 7 http://ww11.doh.state.fl.us/comm/_partners/covid19_report_archive/pediatric_report_latest.pdf 8 Id.
23. These numbers continue to climb daily. Medical and public health experts predict and
model an increased prevalence of the disease and resulting hospitalizations and deaths. Further, the
long-term effects of COVID-19 are currently unknown.9
iii. Urgent Federal, State and Public Health Authority Life Saving Directives on
the Pandemic—We Must Get This Right as There are No “Do-Overs”
24. On January 31, 2020, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared
a public health emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
25. On March 1, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-51
directing the State Surgeon General to declare a Public Health Emergency. On that same date, the
State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees declared a Public Health Emergency for COVID-19 in
26. On March 9, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-52, as
extended on July 7, 2020, declaring a State of Emergency for COVID-19 throughout the State of
27. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized the
outbreak as a pandemic.
28. On March 13, 2020, a national emergency was declared as a result of this pandemic.
29. As the State of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management stated in an
Emergency Order dated March 13, 2020, well before the recent surge in cases, “COVID-19 poses
a severe threat to the entire State of Florida and requires that timely precautions are taken to protect
the communities and general welfare of the State of Florida.”10 The Emergency Order
9 https://www.miamidade.gov/information/library/07.07.20-amendment-2-to-26-20.pdf 10 https://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/covid19/DEM%20ORDER%20NO.%2020-004.pdf
underscored that “[p]romoting the health and safety of each person connected with the
State’s education system is of paramount importance.”11
30. In light of this undisputed public emergency, school systems throughout the
country have been forced to take drastic measures to respond to and mitigate this public health
crisis. School safety is a critical public health and constitutional imperative. The State
Constitution guarantees safe schools.
31. On March 17, 2020, when the state had reported just 314 total COVID-19 cases,
the Florida Department of Education (DOE) issued Executive Order 2020-EO-01 closing schools and
providing measures for local school districts to establish additional remote learning opportunities.12
32. On May 28, 2020, when the total number of positive cases was less than 20% of
what they are now, the DOE released a plan for “Reopening Florida’s Schools and the CARES Act”
in which it stated that “reopening is a locally driven decision,” and referenced the CDC guidelines
throughout.13 This locally driven control is the bedrock of our state governmental structure,
including our public schools.
33. In its May 2020 Guidance,
14 the CDC recommends a 3-step gradual scale up of
opening schools for brick and mortar operations. Pursuant to that guidance, schools should not
physically open until Phase 2 is reached. In fact, Step 1 of the CDC “scale up” states “[s]chools that
are currently closed, remain closed. E-learning or distance learning opportunities should be
provided for all students.”15 In the same document, the CDC outlines a 3-phased approach for
11 Id. 12 https://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/covid19/DOE%20ORDER%20NO%202020-EO-01.pdf 13 http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/19861/urlt/FLDOEReopeningCARESAct.pdf 14 “Activities and Initiatives Supporting the COVID-19 Response and the President’s Plan for Opening American Up
reducing community mitigation measures and lays out gating criteria for reopening.16 The threshold
for entering Phase 1 includes, among other factors, a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases over
a 14-day period, ICU beds at less than 80% capacity, and no ICU staff shortages for at least a week.17
Indeed, the White House has released analogous guidelines recommending that schools should
remain closed during Phase 1.
18 Many counties, including Miami-Dade County, are not even at
Step 1 of the reopening process under CDC guidelines.
34. In May, the CDC cautioned that “full sized, in-person classes,” present the “highest
risk.”19 An internal CDC document, that was leaked on July 8, 2020, reiterates this position.20
35. On July 6, 2020, as Florida continued to experience a dramatic upward trajectory in
COVID-19 cases, hospitalization, and deaths, Florida’s Commissioner of Education, Defendant
Richard Corcoran, issued startling top down Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06, disregarding CDC
recommendations, and instead mandating that: “[u]pon reopening in August, all school boards and
charter school governing bodies must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for
all students, subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of
health, Executive Order 20-149 and subsequent executive orders,”21 and further, that all school
districts “must provide the full array of services required by law so that families who wish to educate
their children in a brick and mortar school full time have the opportunity to do so.”22 The Emergency
Order also directed school districts to “submit to the Department a reopening plan that satisfies the
requirements of this Order.” That submission process has been reported to be one in which school
16 Id. 17 Id. 18 https://www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/ 19 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html 20https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/7072-school-reopeningpacket/b70172f2cc13c9cf0e6a/optimized/full.pdf#page=1 21 See http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/19861/urlt/DOE-2020-EO-06.pdf 22 See http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/19861/urlt/DOE-2020-EO-06.pdf
districts are pushed to reopen in-person instruction, and promised beneficial treatment for so doing,
even when reopening for in-person instruction is not safe. In contradiction of the DOE’s own
pronouncements, on May 28 and other times, this Order bypassed local school boards—and was
imposed on parents, staff, and students without the necessary and appropriate consideration of all
relevant safety factors.
36. The CDC has released several guidelines regarding the safe reopening of schools,
including, but not limited to:23
a. conducting daily health checks of staff and students;
b. use of PPE;
c. providing adequate hygiene supplies (including soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60%
alcohol, paper towels, tissues, disinfectant wipes, and no touch/foot-pedal trash cans);
d. increased and routine cleaning and disinfection;
e. sanitation of frequently touched surfaces (e.g., playground equipment, door handles,
sink handles, drinking fountains) between use;
f. limiting use of shared objects;
g. staggered arrivals and multiple arrival locations;
h. spacing students’ desks at least 6 feet apart;
i. use of flexible work sites (e.g., telework) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered
j. identifying an isolation room or area to separate symptomatic individuals;
k. limiting the number of school visitors;
l. implementing flexible leave policies and practices that enable staff to stay home
when they are sick, have been exposed, or are caring for someone who is sick; and
m. offering telework and virtual learning opportunities for staff and students who are at
higher risk of severe illness.
37. The safety of our public-school students, staff, visitors—and their family with whom
they come in contact—is a centerpiece of the CDC guidelines.
38. Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06 defies CDC recommendations on both when, and
how, to safely reopen schools’ on-site operations. The Order imposes mandates that make it
impossible to comply with CDC guidelines on physical distancing, hygiene, and sanitation if schools
are operating at full capacity. Further, the order fails to provide adequate funding for the necessary
increase in custodians, teachers, physical space, buses, PPE, and hygiene and disinfectant products
needed for a safe reopening. Unfunded mandates are the hallmark of top down government.
39. The Emergency Order comes with severe pressure by the State Government
Defendants to physically reopen schools or face the loss of critical funding for public education.
This threat pits students and safety against vitally needed funds for schools. Pursuant to the Order,
only districts “with an approved reopening plan will receive reporting flexibility that is designed
to provide financial continuity for the 2020 fall semester,” including “funding based on preCOVID FTE student membership forecasts.” Florida superintendents have expressed fear of losing
funding as they make decisions to keep students and employees safe.24
40. While the Emergency Order specifies that the August reopening of schools is
subject to “advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of health,
Executive Order 20-149 and subsequent executive orders,” local health officials who have
cautioned against reopening amid the resurgence of COVID-19 have seemingly been silenced.
The Palm Beach County Health Director who cautioned about the risk to children “got a call from
the surgeon general of the State of Florida that told her to keep her mouth shut and not speak about
it. . . Not only did she get the call, but other health directors from around the state got the same
call that they should not get involved with the school districts’ decisions on whether or not to
reopen schools.”25 Silencing medical experts who advocate for the safety of our children is
unconscionable. That the Emergency Order pays lip service to local health authorities, who are
elsewhere being undermined by the executive branch of the State of Florida, underscores its
irrational and unconstitutional character.
iv. Miami-Dade is Ground Zero
41. While all 67 counties face the horrors of Covid-19, Miami-Dade County has become
the new epicenter of the global pandemic.26
42. South Florida alone accounts for approximately 43% of Florida cases.27 As of June
18, 2020, the number of positive cases in Miami-Dade was 23,391. By July 14, 2020, Miami-Dade’s
case total had risen to 69,803, with 4,443 hospitalizations and 1,175 deaths, including an 11-year old
child.28 As of the same day, Broward County had 32,814 cases and Palm Beach County had 22,279.29
25 wptv.com/news/region-c-palm-beach-county/was-palm-beach-countys-health-director-politically-silenced-inrecommendation-to-keep-schools-closed. 26https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/florida-sets-single-day-record-for-coronavirus-deaths-with-132-adds-9100-
new-cases/2261956/ 27 https://www.orlandosentinel.com/coronavirus/os-ne-florida-coronavirus-monday-july-13-20200713-
g7hrr2fjqvdyvpvkyxyrzbfzmi-story.html 28 https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429;
https://www.miamidade.gov/information/library/07.07.20-amendment-2-to-26-20.pdf 29 https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429
43. No public-school system within the 67 Florida counties should open its doors, unless
safety can be assured, based on the authoritative criteria and data, driven by local facts on the ground.
44. The WHO has advised governments that, before reopening, rates of positivity in
testing should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days.30 In Miami-Dade, the average positivity rate
over the last two weeks is above 27%.31
45. On March 12, 2020, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez declared a local
state of emergency. Since that time, the Mayor has issued dozens of orders relating to COVID-19.
46. The Mayor, like his counterparts in 66 other government administrators, is relied upon
to provide real time key COVID-19 data, to coordinate governmental COVID-19 response with the
various local key governmental agencies—from municipalities to schools—and for vital information,
supplies and community enforcement to address community spread.
47. On May 18, 2020, Mayor Gimenez, who is in charge of controlling and monitoring
community spread, reopened restaurants and nonessential businesses. Less than two months later, the
County’s ICU bed capacity was over 118.91%.32
48. On July 2, 2020, Mayor Gimenez issued Emergency Order No. 27-20 implementing
a county-wide 10 p.m. curfew, excluding essential workers. On the same day, Emergency Order No.
26-20 closed movie theaters, concert house, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys, arcades, indoor
30 https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/testing/testing-positivity 31 https://www.miamidade.gov/information/library/2020-07-17-new-normaldashboard.pdf?adobe_mc=TS%3D1595119928%7CMCMID%3D64113543012189942741524402806959000306%
EC00B78D04B8F0802309C8F9323ACB4 32 https://www.miamidade.gov/information/library/2020-07-17-new-normaldashboard.pdf?adobe_mc=TS%3D1595119928%7CMCMID%3D64113543012189942741524402806959000306%
and outdoor amusement facilities and attractions. Further, Mayor Gimenez amended Emergency
Order No. 20-20 requiring facial coverings to be worn in all public spaces.
49. On July 3, 2020, Mayor Gimenez amended Emergency Order No. 26-20 to implement
the closure of adult theaters, special cabarets, and non-medical massage establishments.
50. On July 7, 2020, Mayor Gimenez further amended Emergency Order No. 26-20 to,
among other things, close all banquet halls and ballrooms, require the use face coverings in gyms,
and limit restaurants to outdoor service, delivery, and pick-up only.33 The Amendment reiterates that
“establishments in which prolonged close contact between individuals occurs create higher risk
of COVID-19 transmission.”34 Although there is a Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade
County, it is a component of the State of Florida Department of Health and not a local authority.
Based on the powers, responsibilities and public action taken to address the crisis, the Office of the
County Mayor represents the foremost local authority concerning public health in Miami-Dade
County. As a result, his advice and orders with respect to health conditions should be considered with
respect to potential implementation of Emergency Order No. 2020-20-06.
51. There has been great discrepancy between the data reported by the county and state,
making it even more difficult for leaders to make determinations about school reopening and safety.
For instance, Miami-Dade’s “New Normal Dashboard,” reports an average positivity rate of 27.05%,
almost 7% higher than the average reported by the state.35 While both numbers are significantly
higher than the 5% threshold articulated by the WHO and the 3% threshold that epidemiologists say
would indicate that the virus is being quelled, decisionmakers must be able to look at accurate and
uniform information when making these tough decisions.36
33 https://www.miamidade.gov/information/library/07.07.20-amendment-2-to-26-20.pdf 34 Id. 35 https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article244296902.html 36 Id.
v. Serious Risks of Unsafe On-site School Reopening—Educators and Health
Officials Weigh in to Protect Children and Public Schools
52. AFT, which represents 1.7 million teachers, school personnel, and healthcare workers
among others, published “A Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities” that
provides a roadmap for navigating the reopening of schools and emphasizes the CDC guidelines
throughout. As noted by the AFT, a premature reopening risks a second surge of infections and second
lockdown, and “[e]ven once public officials deem it is safe to reopen, doing so without the necessary
precautions could be deadly.”37
53. NEA, the nation’s largest professional employee organization representing more than
3 million public school employees, issued guidance on the reopening of schools emphasizing that
“[w]hile physically opening schools at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year is the goal of most
districts, the decisions of when to reopen school buildings must be rooted in health and not based on
an arbitrary date or any other priority.”38
54. On July 10, 2020 the AFT, American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”), NEA, and the
School Superintendents Associations (“AASA”) issued a joint statement affirming the value of inperson learning, but calling for science and community circumstances to guide decision making and
emphasizing the critical need for funding.
55. In a letter to Defendant DeSantis dated April 14, 2020, Plaintiff FEA’s President,
Fedrick Ingram, outlined the position of Florida’s educators— “[a]s much as our students and
educators want the opportunity to be back at our schools, returning [to in-person instruction]
37 https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/covid19_reopen-america-schools.pdf 38 https://educatingthroughcrisis.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/27178-Initial-Guidance-for-ReopeningSchools_Final-1.pdf
prematurely will threaten the safety and wellbeing of all on campus.”39 His letter to the Governor
came long before the recent resurgence that makes his message even more pressing.
56. AFT President, Randi Weingarten, underscored the importance of a safe reopening
stating that “teachers want to get back to classrooms with their students. We know the limits of remote
instruction and the harm of prolonged isolation for students. We know that children best connect,
learn and thrive when they’re in school in person. But as Coronavirus cases surge across the country,
school districts like those in Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta, and Houston have been forced to make
the difficult decision to start school remotely this year. If Governor DeSantis does anything less, it is
unacceptable and a complete betrayal to teachers, students, staff and the families who send their
children to public schools in Florida.”
57. As NEA president Lily Eskelsen García rightfully pointed out, “the global crisis
caused by the coronavirus pandemic evolves by the hour, and as the days go by, we will continue to
learn more about the full impact on students, educators and schools but we cannot recklessly gamble
with the lives of our students and educators. Until the health experts based on the data say it is safe to
re-open school buildings, and the protections are in place to ensure that it remains safe, reopening inperson instruction is too great a risk.”
58. On July 13, 2020, the National Association of School Psychologists (“NASP”)
released a statement declaring that “[t]he decision to return to in-person instruction in our nation’s
schools must be driven by a principle of least harm, guided by reliable public health data, and it must
consider the needs of students, families, and staff. . . If we are serious about returning to in-person
instruction, we first must prioritize lowering rates of community spread.”40
39 https://news.wfsu.org/state-news/2020-07-07/statewide-teachers-union-president-doe-order-to-reopen-schools-infall-politically-motivated 40 https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology/media-room/press-releases/nasp-statement-on-reopeningschools-for-in-person-learning
59. Reopening schools in the middle of a COVID-19 resurgence, and without the proper
plan, resources, and safety precautions will inevitably exacerbate the spread of the virus, jeopardize
public health, and ultimately cause longer closures.
60. California and Texas, two states also experiencing unprecedented COVID-19 surges,
have recognized the safety issues regarding face-to-face instruction at this time. On July 17, 2020, the
Texas Education Agency gave districts discretion to delay the start of on-campus instruction.41 On
the same day, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that schools in over 30 counties who
have the highest rates of COVID-19 infections in California would not physically reopen at the
beginning of the school year and will instead offer full-time distance learning.42 This governmental
action underscores the local nature of community spread, provides clarity, and safeguards that schools
will not physically reopen unless it is safe for students and employees.
61. New York, which early on became the hardest hit by COVID-19 but has since
managed to stave off the virus, has not yet announced its decision regarding the reopening of schools
but has released clear guidance that accounts for the health and safety of students and teachers.43
Governor Cuomo promised that decisions will take local data into consideration and will depend on
whether a district is in a community with a daily infection rate of 5% or lower over 14 days.44 The
interim Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe assured that “[t]he guidance encourages community
involvement and allows for flexibility so that districts and schools in every corner of the state can
assess their unique situation and develop a plan that best meets the needs of their students.”45
42 https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-07-17/california-imposes-statewide-coronavirus-standard-forreopening-schools 43 https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/State-releases-school-reopening-guidance-15414080.php 44 Id. 45 Id.
62. The impact of the arbitrary brick and mortar reopening of schools in areas
experiencing surges is evident. After fully reopening schools in Israel, public officials were forced to
again close schools as they quickly began experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks in the schools and
community.46 It is important to note that before reopening, Israel had fewer than 300 deaths
(compared to nearly 5,000 deaths in Florida to date).
63. A new study reported by the New York Times highlights that physical school
reopening will likely trigger more outbreaks, “the findings suggest that as schools reopen,
communities will see clusters of infection take root that include children of all ages.”47 The study
reveals that middle and high school students may be even more likely to spread the virus than adults.48
64. There is no rational basis for ignoring science and evidence-based data. Health experts
have rejected Governor DeSantis’ claims that the risk for students is “incredibly low.”49 Further, they
caution that the long-term health effects for children who contract the virus are largely unknown, and
that even asymptomatic children have experienced lung damage from the virus.50
65. At a July 14, 2020 Palm Beach Board of County Commissioner meeting, before she
was told to “keep her mouth shut” the Palm Beach County Health Department Director, Alina Alonso,
testified “when you take X-rays of their lungs . . . they are seeing that there is damage to the lungs
in these asymptomatic children. That is very important, we don’t know how that is going to manifest
a year from now. This is not the virus that you bring everyone together to make sure you catch and
46 https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/03/868507524/israel-orders-schools-to-closewhen-covid-19-cases-are-discovered 47 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/18/health/coronavirus-children-schools.html?referringSource=articleShare 48 Id. 49 Id. 50https://www.sun-sentinel.com/coronavirus/fl-ne-pbc-health-director-covid-children-20200714-
get it over with. This is something serious and we are learning new information about this virus
every day. . . this is real, and the kids can get sick and they can die.”51
66. Florida public school programs are illustrative of the risks ahead given the current
surge. During the summer months, some Florida school districts have had limited on-site openings
with a restricted number of students and employees reporting to school sites. Upon information and
belief, many schools did not implement or enforce the necessary safety guidelines during that time.
Countless school employees have already tested positive for COVID-19 over the summer.
67. In Arizona, one teacher died, and two others became sick, after sharing a classroom
for two hours a day during the summer to teach online classes.52
68. The opening of summer camps has also underscored the likely effects of the unsafe
reopening of schools. In Miami-Dade, COVID-19 cases—including a 7-year old child—have also
been identified in 16 of the County’s 36 school summer camps, in spite of limited enrollment, imposed
mask and temperature rules, and keeping children in small groups.53
vi. The Real-Life Impact on Public School Teachers, Staff, and Students is
69. Numerous teachers and other public school employees across Florida are at increased
risk for severe illness if they contract COVID-19, due to various medical conditions like heart
conditions, diabetes, obesity, and weakened immune systems. Adults 65 or older, like numerous
public-school employees, are also at higher-risk. Indeed, the White House has urged older Americans
and citizens with underlying health conditions to stay home and to avoid other people.54
bcc-mtg (at 44:53). 52 https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/14/us/arizona-teachers-coronavirus-survivors/index.html 53 miamiherald.com/article244138847.html 54 https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/03.16.20_coronavirus-guidance_8.5x11_315PM.pdf
70. Upon information and belief, teachers across the state are preparing wills and living
wills ahead of possible in person learning that can expose their health and lives to serious threats.
Upon information and belief, teachers and other school professionals have rushed resignations and
retirements—even with early retirement penalties.
71. The enforcement of Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06 as a one-size-fits-all and
top down decision to require millions of students and employees within Florida to report to schools
without providing the adequate resources to safely do so—and at a time when cases continue to
increase at an alarming rate—puts the health and safety of employees, students, and their families
at risk. Students and staff go home at the end of the school day. They go home to parents,
grandparents, and siblings—all of whom are then at increased risk of transmission. Further, in
putting the health and safety of the entire state at risk, the actions at issue here directly contradict
the CDC recommendations.
72. When students and employees return to the school site, they will be indoors with
each other for 7 hours a day in derogation of CDC guidelines and executive orders issued across
the state, including in Miami-Dade County and other counties in the state. They will be sharing
common areas including buses, hallways, classrooms, clinics, locker rooms, and bathrooms. They
will be touching door handles and sharing equipment along with potentially hundreds of other
people. These millions of individuals will return to their families and to the community to continue
to accelerate the spread of COVID-19.
73. With a surge in COVID-19 patients across the state, hospitals are already
experiencing shortages in staff, medicines, beds, PPE, equipment, and treatment and testing
supplies.55 The increased community spread that would inevitably be caused by physical school
openings would push hospitals even further beyond capacity and likely result in more deaths. The
fiscal impact on the public health system further threatens our schools’ viability.
74. Defendants are risking public health and preventing effective community
mitigation, which is “especially important before a vaccine or drug becomes widely available”
according to the CDC. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
75. Instruction never ends. Teachers keep teaching. There are multiple modalities to
deliver instruction prior to a safe on-site reopening. Teachers and students have the ability to engage
in online instruction. While in-person learning is optimal, there is currently no safe way to do so,
amidst a drastic resurgence, in compliance with CDC recommendations for physical distancing, PPE,
self-quarantining, and sanitation.
76. Schools are being destabilized. Defendants have the duty to take the necessary steps
to protect the health and safety of public-school employees and students, and to protect them
equally. Defendants have not only failed to fulfill that duty, but by their actions, they have
prevented school districts from taking the steps necessary to protect student, staff and community
health and safety. Those protections are not being effectuated. As a result, our schools are currently
trying to plan around the chaos brought by this dangerous and illegal order.
DECLARATORY JUDGMENT AGAINST GOVERNOR DESANTIS,
COMMISSIONER CORCORAN, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION,
AND FLORIDA BOARD OF EDUCATION – VIOLATION OF FLORIDA
CONSTITUTION FOR UNSAFE OPENING OF BRICK AND MORTAR SCHOOLS
77. The allegations in paragraphs 1 through 76 are incorporated herein by reference.
78. Fla. Stat. § 86.011 gives the circuit courts of this state jurisdiction and the power
“to declare rights, status, and other equitable or legal relations whether or not further relief is or
could be claimed.”
79. Article IX, Section 1(a) of the Florida Constitution provides:
Section 1. Public education.–
(a) The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State
of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision
for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision
shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality
system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality
education . . .
80. The Florida Constitution requires that state entities and public officials, who
are charged with overseeing the funding and operations of public education, ensure that our
schools operate safely. Protecting the health and safety of each person connected with the state’s
education system is undisputedly a matter of paramount importance. Defendants cannot legally
deny students, public school staff, their family members, and the public with whom they come in
contact within the public-school system their basic human needs for health and safety.
81. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment determining that the State Government
Defendants have failed to abide by the requirements of the Florida Constitution by directing, in
Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06, that beginning in August, 2020, “all school boards…must open
brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students, subject to the advice and orders
of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of health, Executive Order 20-149 and
subsequent executive orders” and finding that such directive fails to recognize the authority of local
elected school boards to “operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school
district.” Fla. Const. Art. IX, § 4(b).
82. The Emergency Order and efforts by the State Government Defendants to pressure
premature physical reopening of brick and mortar schools no matter the health costs, will cause
further spread of the virus to Plaintiffs, their families, and the general public. Despite the public
statements that the decision is up to the local school boards, their current actions and threats indicate
otherwise. Many superintendents fear the loss of millions of dollars in state funding if they do not
follow the Emergency Order’s mandate. Some school board members fear removal if they do not
follow the Emergency Order’s mandate.
83. Importantly, the Emergency Order fails to consider unique local circumstances,
resources, and health data, as required by health experts. While it might be safe to reopen in some
districts across the state, it is not safe to physically open schools in others, including Miami-Dade
County and other crisis areas of Florida including counties like Broward, Palm Beach, and Orange
County. Science and data must drive those decisions. The order mandating in-person instruction
without consideration of the sweeping community spread of COVID-19 in school districts across
the state goes entirely against the recommendations of all public health experts, the CDC, and the
federal government’s “Guidelines for Opening up America Again.”
84. Further, the mandate does not allow for effective planning and for ensuring that the
proper safety protocols are in place. As many districts were preparing to implement hybrid
education models and online instruction initiatives, just weeks before the start of the school
calendar, they now find themselves forced to crowd millions of students into schools where physical
distancing, although critical, becomes virtually impossible. In a matter of weeks, schools will
reopen without nearly enough time to develop and implement safety protocols that comply with
CDC guidelines that are intended to contain the virus and keep our communities safe. Current
school planning has been sabotaged by this fist from afar.
85. An actual controversy currently exists between the Plaintiffs and the Defendants.
Absent the requested relief, schools across the state will unsafely reopen on-site instruction and
operating in August to the injury and detriment of all Florida citizens. A declaration is needed from
this Court to protect the community from Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06.
WHEREFORE, the Plaintiffs seek a declaration from this Court that the Department of
Education Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06, and related actions or threatened actions to enforce
it, violate the Florida Constitution and any additional relief the Court deems just and proper.
DECLARATORY JUDGMENT AGAINST GOVERNOR DESANTIS, COMMISSIONER
CORCORAN, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, AND FLORIDA BOARD
OF EDUCATION – EMERGENCY ORDER NO. 2020-EO-06 UNDERMINES SCHOOLS
SAFETY AND MAKES ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS DEMANDS
ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN VIOLATION OF THE FLORIDA CONSTITUTION
86. The allegations in paragraphs 1 through 76 are incorporated herein by reference.
87. Fla. Stat. § 86.011 gives the circuit courts of this state jurisdiction and the power
“to declare rights, status, and other equitable or legal relations whether or not further relief is or
could be claimed.”
88. Article I, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution provides that “[n]o person shall be
deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law[.]” If a statute or government order
is arbitrary and capricious, it violates due process rights guaranteed by the Florida Constitution.
See State v. Saiez, 489 So. 2d 1125, 1128 (Fla. 4th DCA 1986).
89. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06 is arbitrary and
90. The Emergency Order requires all school boards to open brick and mortar schools,
at least five days a week, beginning in August, while simultaneously recognizing that “[a]bsent
these directives, the day-to-day decision to open or close a school must always rest locally with
the board or executive most closely associated with a school[.]” (Emphasis added.) Defendants
cannot have it both ways.
91. This Order is unreasonable, inconsistent, and arbitrary and capricious.
92. Although, after the order was issued, the Department of Education reportedly said
it is intended to apply only “when” schools reopen, the Order has not been amended accordingly
and conflicting directives have since been given to the school districts. Other than clearly requiring
the physical reopening of schools in August, the Order has created ambiguity and left school boards
scrambling to comply with its ill-defined requirements in a way that will keep their communities
safe while avoiding drastic budget cuts.
93. Public statements from Defendant DeSantis and Defendant Department of
Education are just as perplexing. In addressing the Order, Defendant DeSantis has said “if you
actually look at the way it’s structured, it’s not exactly mandatory.”56 Similarly, while local
departments of health are reportedly being silenced, Defendant Department of Education says the
Order “encourages school boards and charter school governing boards to seek the advice of public
health experts of the Florida Department of Health and local department of health when making
94. The Emergency Order is confusing and ambiguous, and its implementation is
unpredictable. This is creating fear and anxiety among Plaintiffs, including teachers and parents,
and confusion among school boards as they plan for the upcoming school year which begins next
95. The Emergency Order fails to provide the constitutional and clear logical guidance
that Floridians so desperately need during this state of emergency, especially when it relates to their
children’s safety and education.
56 https://www.wptv.com/news/region-c-palm-beach-county/was-palm-beach-countys-health-director-politicallysilenced-in-recommendation-to-keep-schools-closed 57 Id.
96. Moreover, Plaintiffs are being denied the right to rely on their locally elected school
board officials because the State Government Defendants are usurping their constitutional function.
Parents and public-school employees have a right to rely on their elected officials to make decisions
safeguarding their health and the health and safety of their families. Underscoring the arbitrary and
capricious nature of the State Government Defendants’ efforts to displace local judgment and
experience is the reality that as recently as May 28, when conditions were less dire, they took a
97. An actual controversy currently exists between the Plaintiffs and the Defendants.
The Defendants’ mandate wrongfully assumes that state authorities can better determine the local
health risks and educational needs of students and teachers than the local officials that were elected
for that purpose. This is arbitrary and capricious government action and violates due process.
98. The decisions as to how and when to safely reopen schools are subject to the school
boards and should be based on current and accurate information and in cooperation with each
counties’ public health authorities, including the Defendant Mayor Gimenez in Miami-Dade
WHEREFORE, the Plaintiffs seek a declaration from this Court that the Department of
Education Emergency Order No. 2020-EO-06 is arbitrary and capricious and therefore violates the
Florida Constitution and any additional relief the Court deems just and proper.
INJUNCTIVE RELIEF AGAINST ALL DEFENDANTS
99. The allegations in paragraphs 1 through 76 are incorporated herein by reference.
100. Fla. Stat. § 26.012(3) gives the circuit courts of this state jurisdiction and the power
to issue injunctions.
101. Plaintiffs have a clear legal right to be free from significant threats to public health,
including outbreaks of infectious diseases.
102. The Plaintiffs seek an injunction to prohibit all named Defendants from taking
actions to unconstitutionally force millions of public school students and employees to report to
brick and mortar schools that should remain closed during the resurgence of COVID-19 cases
pursuant to the CDC and other federal guidelines as well as the overwhelming opinion of medical
and epidemiological experts. It is particularly arbitrary and harmful when reasonable alternatives
exist under these extraordinary circumstances for remote online instruction allowing for the
protection of children, teachers and other education professionals, family members, and the
103. In-person instruction requires prolonged close indoor contact between students and
school employees. There is currently no ability to provide for adequate physical distancing, PPE
use, hygiene practices, contact tracing, and other safety measure required by the federal, state,
county, and CDC guidelines to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Indeed, in Miami Dade
and several other counties there are inadequate supplies for testing, for the timely provision of
testing results, and now for the provision of COVID-19 treatment in hospitals already over capacity
with COVID-19 patients as the pandemic rages on.
104. The spread of COVID-19 that will result from the unsafe reopening of schools
during the surge is not limited to students, teachers, school administrators, or school staff and will
undoubtably spread to their families and communities.
105. Instead of controlling the community spread, as they have a legal duty to do,
Defendants’ threatened actions will increase positivity rates, hospitalizations, and deaths and put
added stress on healthcare resources that are already running dangerously low because of the
current surge in COVID-19.
106. Defendants’ actions would unreasonably interfere with Floridians’ right to public
health and safety, and will cause special harm and endangerment to Plaintiffs and their families as
they will be directly exposed to the virus on a daily basis if all brick and mortar schools are
reopened in August.
107. Absent an injunction from this Court, the mandated physical reopening of schools
in just a few short weeks will create an unsafe and unsecure environment for students, employees,
and the community at large. The community spread that will inevitably result from the premature
reopening of schools will yield unfortunate and avoidable increases in disease, long-term health
complications, and deaths across Miami-Dade and the State of Florida.
108. Miami-Dade students, teachers, and other school employees and their families are
at a particularly high risk if schools reopen in August, as the County is now the global epicenter
of the pandemic. Students, school employees, and other communities across the state are also
extremely vulnerable to this disease as its spread continues to increase throughout Florida.
109. Mayor Gimenez, in his capacity as the public official charged with setting County
standards and operating procedures and maintaining the safety and welfare of Miami-Dade
residents, is tasked with alerting the community of the latest data regarding COVID-19 and taking
steps to minimize community spread. It is his responsibility to alert the community and decision
makers when, like now, it is unsafe and irresponsible to reopen on-site operations at schools. He
has a duty to provide this data so local schools, the School Board, and other authorities have the
latest real time data and community enforcement so they can take all the necessary steps to prevent
a premature reopening and ensure that a genuinely safe reopening can happen as soon as possible.
Each day that Mayor Gimenez fails to take a definitive stance against the reopening of schools is
a day lost in preparing schools, teachers, students, and parents for a safe new school year.
110. Plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. Without an
injunction, Plaintiffs and millions of students, and the over 140,000 FEA members, their families,
and the community at large will be put at an unnecessarily increased risk of physical injury, illness,
and potentially death from the COVID-19 virus. Employees and students should not have to risk
injury or death by being required to report to school. Indeed, the Florida Constitution guarantees
their safety and condemns needless harm.
111. If Defendants are not enjoined from their actions and omissions, including
mandating the physical reopening of schools, the Plaintiffs face irreparable harm in the form of
unquantifiable emotional and physical injuries. The virus will continue to spread and result in
severe illness, long-term and unpredictable health complications, and, in some cases, death.
112. The threatened injury to the lives of Plaintiffs and to Florida residents outweighs
any possible harm to Defendants. Defendants Governor DeSantis, Commissioner Corcoran,
Department of Education, and Board of Education can still achieve their objective through online
instruction capabilities until it is safe to return to face-to-face learning.
113. The Plaintiffs’ injuries cannot be compensated adequately by damages or otherwise
remedied at law. This is not an issue that can be cured with money. Lives—and the health and
safety of our State—are on the line.
WHEREFORE, the Plaintiffs seek the following relief:
(a) An order enjoining all named Defendants from unnecessarily and
unconstitutionally forcing millions of public-school students and employees to report to unsafe
brick and mortar schools that should remain physically closed during the resurgence of COVID19 in Florida.
(b) An order requiring Defendants to develop and implement an online instruction plan
aimed at all children and to make internet connectivity and computer devices available to all
students, as many districts have already done, so that they can meaningfully engage in virtual
instruction until it is safe to reopen brick and mortar schools.
(c) An order requiring that, before the physical reopening of brick and mortar schools,
each school must have adequate personal protective equipment and other necessary supplies for
all employees and students; reduce class sizes to comply with physical distancing requirements;
install sufficient hand-sanitizing stations; add plexiglass shields where necessary; increase
staffing; increase school clinic capabilities; and take all necessary measures to protect students
and staff and minimize COVID-19 transmission.
(d) And any additional relief this Court deems just and proper.
Dated: July 20, 2020. Respectfully submitted,
COFFEY BURLINGTON, P.L.
2601 South Bayshore Drive, Penthouse
Miami, FL 33133
By: /s/ Kendall Coffey_____________________
Kendall B. Coffey, Fla. Bar No. 259861
Josefina M. Aguila, Fla. Bar No. 0119719
MEYER, BROOKS, BLOHM & HEARN, P.A.
131 North Gadsden Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301
By: /s/ Ronald G. Meyer______________________
Ronald G. Meyer, Fla. Bar No. 148248
Kimberly C. Menchion, General Counsel
FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
213 South Adams Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301
By: /s/ Kimberly C. Menchion_________________
Kimberly C. Menchion, Fla. Bar No. 435613
PHILLIPS, RICHARD & RIND, P.A.
9360 S.W. 72nd Street, Suite 283
Miami FL 33173-3283
By: /s/ Lucia Piva
Lucia Piva, Fla. Bar No. 119340
Mark Richard, Fla. Bar No. 305979
Kathleen M. Phillips, Esq.
Counsel for Plaintiffs