GAE files lawsuit on the handling of public school reopenings
by Lisa Morgan
ATLANTA – Today, the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) announced the filing of litigation in the Fulton County Superior Court. The suit names Gov. Brian Kemp, other state, and Paulding County officials for their reckless guidance and actions in opening school buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Georgia’s 1.8 million public school students deserve to be safe and healthy in all school settings. They should be in spaces that do not risk their health and by extension, the health of their family and friends,” said Lisa Morgan, a local kindergarten teacher and president of GAE. “Decisions by some of our leaders have led to classroom and school environments that endanger our children. As an organization of educators, that goes against the very nature of who we are and what we do for our students every day. That is why today GAE, along with other plaintiffs, saw the need to file suit.”
The suit, filed Wednesday, notes that the Governor’s actions have put the health and safety of Georgia’s 1.8 million public school students at risk in egregious violation of Article VIII of the Georgia Constitution and its mandate that all students receive an “adequate public education.”
GAE on numerous occasions has asked Gov. Kemp, other state leadership, and local school leaders to put the safety of our students above everything else in the decisions regarding reopening our schools. “Educators fully understand the preferred option of in-person instruction,” said Morgan. “We want to be in our classrooms interacting with our students and providing them the instructional experiences we know provide them the best learning opportunities. However, our overriding concern is the welfare and safety of our students. It would be absolutely devastating to the school community to know that one of our students became seriously ill or worse simply because in-person instruction was mandated over virtual.”
By no means is virtual perfect. Everyone realizes the tremendous stress this has placed on students, educators, and their families. “Extraordinary and difficult times call for extraordinary and sometimes difficult measures. We will get through this, but until we do – we must keep our children as safe possible and shield them from any circumstance that increases their risk of infection,” said Morgan. This need is magnified for those whom the impact will be negatively disproportionate and need support the most. These are students in poor communities, black and brown students, and those students with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
Instances such as the viral video showing crowded school hallways in Paulding and other Georgia counties served to illustrate the disregard for the safety of our students and school workers. Schools have reopened in person only to close soon after due to positive infections of COVID-19 among students.
As stated in our suit, “Public health experts across the country and the world have issued extensive recommendations regarding whether and how schools should reopen. While these recommendations vary in terms of their details and precise thresholds for reopening schools, a clear model has emerged: schools should only be opened for in-person instruction where levels of COVID-19 transmission in the surrounding community are low; and once this criteria is met, schools must implement mitigation measures to reduce the risk of transmission.”
The suit asks for the following: declare the constitutional right to an adequate public school education includes the student’s right to school facilities that meet basic health and safety standards; declare the local board of education has created a public nuisance through its acts and omissions; and declare that public school districts have a duty to provide a safe work environment for its employees. We also ask the court to order all defendants issue binding health and safety standards consistent with public health authorities such as the CDC.