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State's Appeal In School Reopen Legal Battle Means Districts Still Under DOE's Order, For Now

After a Leon County judge sided with the statewide teachers union in the legal battle over reopening brick-and-mortar-schools Monday, the state has filed an appeal. That means an automatic stay has been applied to the case by the First District Court of Appeals.

As a result of the state’s appeal, school districts for the time being are still under the Department of Education’s order. That includes Leon County – Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the district is gearing up to welcome back 15,000 students to campus:

“So, we’re starting school as planned on Monday,” Hanna said during a meeting Monday night, in anticipation of the appeal’s filing.

Professor Louis Virelli teaches constitutional law at Stetson University – he explained why a stay is commonly applied in high profile cases on appeal.

“When that appellate court makes a decision, if it is different than the decision the trial court made, then whatever the trial court put into effect will have to be reversed,” Virelli told WFSU Tuesday. “So, if the teachers are in the classroom they can be brought out, or vice versa. In a situation like that, the appellate court often stays the trial court decision in order to keep the status quo in place, so we avoid lurching back and forth between all these dramatic changes, while we’re waiting for the final decision on appeal.”

Virelli says the same thing can happen between an appellate court and the state Supreme Court. He made clear why a stay is so often applied in cases involving the state:

“It would be common when the state is a party to the suit, because generally speaking, an instruction by the court to the state is going to have significant consequences to the people in that state,” Virelli said.

Hillsborough County School Superintendent Addison Davis told the School Board they will forge ahead with their reopening plans so as not to risk losing funding from the state.

“If we continue to pause then we would be out of close to 200 million dollars and I don’t recommend that at this time.”

Schools in Hillsborough County wrap up one week of e-learning Friday, then open their doors to students for in-person class Monday.

In a statement Monday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he’s “100 percent confident” the state will win the case on appeal.

WUSF reporter Kerry Sheridan contributed to this report.

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