Story at a glance
- The Orange County Board of Education announced plans to sue Gov. Newsom following a vote on Tuesday.
- The members say that his decision to restrict school openings is unconstitutional.
- This comes as Orange County was placed on a state watch list for coronavirus hotspots.
In the battle to reopen U.S. schools for the upcoming academic year, a Southern California school district is suing Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to reopen in-person classes this fall despite the area being on a hotspot watch list.
The Orange County Board of Education decided Tuesday to sue Newsom over his order that any county on the state coronavirus watch list — which includes Orange County — cannot resume in-person classes, according to The Voice of Orange County. The board’s decision was an unanimous 4-0 vote.
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“Many families will suffer greatly and experience many unknown, unintended consequences if schools remain closed. We believe students and their families must have the option for in-person learning,” said school board President Ken Williams, Jr. “We have made the decision to put the needs of our students first.”
Newsom banned the reopening of schools in counties that are on a state watchlist for especially high coronavirus transmission. This includes most of Southern California, including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, CBS reports.
Orange County itself reports 34,833 confirmed cases, along with 581 fatalities.
This follows a separate group of parents who are suing Newsom over the school closures, saying the choice to send children to school should rest with the parents.
Counties that are not on the state watchlist are permitted to reopen schools, with masks required for all teachers and staff, as well as some students. Other public health protocols will be enforced if a COVID-19 case is detected within a school.
“Schools must provide meaningful instruction during this pandemic whether they're physically open or not," Newsom said last week. "We all prefer in-classroom instruction for all the obvious reasons ... but only if it can be done safely.”
Both lawsuits Newsom faces assert that it is unconstitutional to close schools.
“California children have a constitutional right to both an education and equal protection under the law. The governor denied them these rights and did so without adequately considering the disparate impact these restrictions would have on the disadvantaged,” attorney Jennifer Bursch of Tyler & Bursch, LLP said. The firm will be representing the Orange County Board of Education. “We brought this lawsuit to protect the single mom and her children, children whose parents do not read or write English, and children with special needs.”
Other organizations are demanding that schools remain closed unless it is completely safe to reopen. The California Teachers Association (CTA), a union representing California educators, released a statement decrying the efforts to reopen schools, citing the need for rigorous public health protocols, including disinfecting public areas, daily health assessments before entering school grounds, physical distancing in classrooms and other shared spaces, and ample testing.
“When we physically return to school campuses, it needs to be planned and deliberate with safety and public health at the forefront of all decision-making and with the involvement of educators and parents,” the statement read. “There must be clear and up-to-date guidance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on how schools open safely and responsibly, as well as triggers that require schools to physically close again.”
Regarding the alternative to live classes, remote or distance learning, Newsom said the state will ensure courses taught virtually will be effective.
“If we're going to have distance learning, we will make sure that it's real, that we address the divide and it is quality,” the governor told reporters. “Learning is non-negotiable.”
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