Gov. Gavin Newsom acted in an unconstitutional manner when he implemented COVID-19-related mandates barring private school children from in-person classes, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has ruled.
A July 2020 lawsuit filed by the Center for American Liberty and 20 plaintiffs challenged the Democrat governor’s order that barred in-person teaching in 32 of California’s counties. Several of those plaintiffs said Newsom had overstepped his authority and acted illegally by denying parents control over their children’s education.
“California’s forced closure of their private schools implicates a right that has long been considered fundamental under the applicable caselaw—the right of parents to control their children’s education and to choose their children’s educational forum,” Judge Daniel Collins ruled on July 23, regarding the case Branch v. Newsom.
“Because California’s ban on in-person schooling abridges a fundamental liberty of these five Plaintiffs that is protected by the Due Process Clause, that prohibition can be upheld only if it withstands strict scrutiny,” he said.
California’s lockdown mandate doesn’t survive “such scrutiny,” the judge wrote.
But the court essentially upheld the state’s decision to keep public schools closed to in-person instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
California had a “legitimate and compelling interest” in preventing COVID-19 by requiring the closure of schools in counties that had a relatively high number of cases of the virus. The California-based circuit court also noted that the state has the right to implement different closure rules on child care centers, public schools, and similar facilities.
Newsom’s office has long defended its private school lockdown policies and pushed back against the appeals court’s ruling.
“Throughout this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, the state was guided by science and data—prioritizing the health and safety of students, staff, and their families while supporting schools to meet the needs of students and return to in-person learning quickly,” Newsom’s office said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times on July 23. “All students are returning to full, in-person instruction next year, and the state is focused on ensuring that return is successful.”
Harmeet Dhillon, the head of the Center for American Liberty, said the 9th Circuit Court decision is a “victory for parents’ rights” in the state. She said the court affirmed that only parents “and not Gavin Newsom or faceless bureaucrats … have the right to decide how best to educate their children.”
However, Dhillon said she was dismayed by the court’s ruling to keep the public school COVID-19 lockdown mandates, suggesting that her group will continue to appeal against the public school decision.
“While we are thrilled for our clients whose rights are vindicated by today’s decision, we are disappointed the 9th Circuit did not rule that all students, including those in public school, have a basic right to an education. We will continue to advocate for the educational rights of all students,” she said in a statement.