But late Monday, state officials filed an intention to appeal, which put a stay on the preliminary injunction. Lawyers for the FEA said they would file a motion to reinstate the judge’s ruling.
Dodson said that parts of the order were unconstitutional and that state officials “have essentially ignored the requirement of school safety by requiring the statewide opening of brick-and-mortar schools to receive already allocated funding.” He also said the state had wrongly removed the right of local districts to decide for themselves on safe reopening plans.
The Florida Department of Education said it could not immediately comment on the decision.
The White House, where President Trump has been pushing districts to reopen schools and threatened to withhold federal funds if they didn’t — though he doesn’t have the power to do that unilaterally — said it would not comment on state matters.
The appeal by the state means that school districts cannot immediately move to change their reopening plans for starting the 2020-2021 school year without state permission. The commissioner’s office sent an email to school districts Monday night telling them about the appeal.
Union leaders hailed the decision as a victory for local school governance and the health of students. FEA President Fedrick Ingram said school districts, parents, and the 150,000 members of his union can now plan for a safe school reopening that follows local health guidelines, not orders from Tallahassee.
“Mr. Corcoran, Mr. DeSantis, you’re wrong,” Ingram said. “We won because we are on the side of right, on the side of public health and safety.” He said the state would likely appeal the decision.
But some local education leaders said they wished the ruling had come earlier, before school started in dozens of districts.
Orange County school board member Karen Castor Dentel, for example, said the ruling “is not going to solve the damage that our commissioner has already inflicted.” Students returned to school campuses in Orange County in the past week.
“We were under threat of losing our funding and forced to develop models that are illogical and not based on what’s best for kids. But we had to go forward with them,” she said. “I wish the ruling came sooner. Not just that our kids are back to school but in the whole planning stages. We were planning another model that was developmentally and educationally sound and we had to scrap that.”
Cody McCloud, press secretary for DeSantis, said in an email on Tuesday: "We intend to appeal this ruling and are confident in our position and in the authority of the commissioner and the governor to do what is best for our students.”
Dodson said in his decision that the state did not take many important health considerations into account when it issued the order.
“It fails to mention consideration of community transmission rates, varying ages of students, or proper precautions,” he wrote. “What has been clearly established is there is no easy decision and opening schools will most likely increase covid-19 cases in Florida.”
The judge ruled that the plaintiffs had established the order was being “applied arbitrarily across Florida.” He sided with the plaintiffs, granting a preliminary injunction against the order and striking down parts of it as unconstitutional.
The administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a Trump ally, has for months been pushing districts to reopen. On July 6, Corcoran issued an order requiring that school districts reopen school buildings, though it gave a few districts in South Florida, which had extremely high coronavirus rates, permission to start the 2020-2021 school year remotely.
Other districts that wanted to start remotely were not given approval, including Hillsborough County, which was threatened by the DeSantis administration with the loss of nearly $200 million if it carried out its plan to open remotely.
The lawsuit asserted Corcoran’s order was unconstitutional because it threatened the safety of schools by conditioning funding on reopening school buildings by the end of August, regardless of the dangers posed by the pandemic. The lawsuit also asserted the order was “arbitrary” and “capricious” on its face and application.
The state responded, arguing the order was a reasonable exercise of emergency powers by the DeSantis administration that balanced the constitutional rights of students against the risk of harm during the pandemic. It also said states had submitted reopening plans that included the opening of school campuses and that showed the districts wanted to proceed that way.
Dodson did not accept that reasoning, saying that districts had no choice but to open buildings because of the order.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union in the country, said in a statement that “Dodson saw Florida’s unconstitutional executive order for what it was — a cynical edict that put fealty to President Trump over the well-being of children and educators. The judge ruled that decisions about reopening should be made locally, not dictated by the state, either directly or through funding decisions.”
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the largest labor union in the country, said the decision “is a victory for students and educators from being forced into unsafe school buildings.”
(This post has been updated with statement from the governor.)
Here is the judge’s decision: