ORLANDO, Fla. — A lawsuit was filed in Orange County on Sunday against Gov. Ron DeSantis and other officials to prevent the upcoming reopening of public schools over concerns that students and teachers would be put at risk of catching the coronavirus.
The suit alleges that school districts have limited resources and won't be able to safely transport kids to school, provide enough space for social distancing in classrooms and have other necessary protocols in place that are recommended by health officials to prevent the spread of the virus.
Following state orders, the Orange County School Board on Friday approved an Aug. 21 reopening plan, offering both on-campus and online options.
"Teachers, staff and children are at severe risk of exposure to COVID-19, which will no doubt lead to serious illness and death," the lawsuit states. "The unsafe opening of public schools will also worsen the spread of COVID-19 throughout our communities, state and country."
Orange school district officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
The suit was filed by Kathryn Hammond, a teacher at Southwest Middle School; and Monique Bellefleur, a parent of three children enrolled in the school district.
According to the suit, Hammond has two children, is pregnant and was advised by her doctor to avoid teaching in a classroom. Two of Bellefleur's three children are asthmatic and face additional risk from possible exposure to the virus, said the suit, filed by Jacob V. Stuart Jr. and William Wieland II. Stuart declined comment on Sunday.
The issue of reopening schools during a pandemic has been hotly debated in Central Florida and nationwide. Teachers for Orange County and Seminole County school districts staged protests, with some arguing teaching in person puts their health and their families in jeopardy.
On Friday, Orange school board members expressed frustration that if they didn't submit a plan, with an August opening date and an on-campus option, they risked losing state funding and having to lay off teachers.
The Orange school district, which is the eighth-largest in the country, plans to seek a waiver from Florida's requirement that traditional, five-day, in-person classes begin next month.
DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Orange Superintendent Barbara Jenkins and members of the Orange County Public Schools board are among several people named in the suit.
DeSantis has defended sending kids back to school and Corcoran doubled down Wednesday, saying he would not alter his order requiring public schools to give parents that choice when the new school year starts.
"Not wanting to jeopardize essential and expected funding for full-time teachers, OCPS is left with no choice, despite the rapid rise in infections, but to provide in-person, face-to-face instruction for the start of the 2020-2021 School Year," the suit said.
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