The COVID Corral Continues: An Update to COVID Litigation Affecting Schools

We recently reported on numerous lawsuits, filed around Illinois and around the country, challenging the COVID-19 responses of school districts, governors, and state education departments. Key rulings are expected to come from these lawsuits that will impact far beyond the individual district at issue in the suit.

First, in a federal case out of New York that we recently discussed, J.T. v. DeBlasio, 100 students with disabilities filed a class action lawsuit against virtually every school district and state education department in the country. The students alleged that their school districts denied them their IDEA, ADA, Section 504, and constitutional rights. However, the judge issued several powerful preliminary orders. The judge issued a “rule to show cause” order requiring the attorneys for the students to tell the court why it should not dismiss the complaint against the school districts in the 49 states outside of New York for lack of jurisdiction. In addition, after learning that the attorneys for the students were attempting to initiate special education due process hearings to avoid dismissal of the suit for failing to exhaust administrative remedies, the judge barred them from initiating any such hearings. From the tenor of the judge’s orders, it would be surprising if any school district outside New York remains a defendant in this litigation.

Second, in Corwin v. City of New York, a group of teachers filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education over its remote-work and medical-accommodations policy. The teachers are asking the court to compel the NYCDOE to allow the teachers to work remotely, with full pay and without having to use any leave. The teachers argue that the NYCDOE’s use of the CDC’s “high-risk” categories to determine medical accommodations is arbitrary and capricious because it allows people who are smokers, obese, or over 65 years old to work remotely, but it does not allow teachers who live with family members who are in the “high-risk” categories to work remotely. The NYCDOE responded by saying the teachers’ motion for an injunction should be denied because the reopening plan is guided by science, it complies with state and federal guidelines, and the teachers—whose union has reached an agreement with the NYCDOE on the reopening plan—are bound by the union’s agreement. We await the ruling in this case.

Third, in DeSantis v. FEA, Florida’s NEA affiliate filed suit against Governor Ron DeSantis for requiring all K-12 public schools to reopen for in-person learning while COVID-19 ran rampant in Florida. While the lower court granted the FEA an injunction preventing the Governor from enforcing his in-person learning mandate, a Florida appellate court granted Governor DeSantis’ motion to lift the injunction, meaning DeSantis’s original reopening order remains in effect during the appeal.

Contact a Hodges Loizzi attorney with questions regarding these lawsuits and the impact on Illinois school districts.

Sources:

DeSantis v. Fla. Educ. Ass’n, No. 2020-CA-1450 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App., Aug. 28, 2020)

Corwin v. City of N.Y., No. 157166 (N.Y. Supp. Ct. Sept. 4, 2020)

J.T. v. DeBlasio, No. 20-cv-5878 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 2, 2020)

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