The Orange County Board of Education (OCBE) agreed in a closed session on July 28 to file a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Public Health Officer, seeking an order to overturn their decision to restrict in-person learning in state schools for the fall.
Attorney Robert Tyler told The Epoch Times in an email that the board plans to officially file the suit next week. His law firm, Tyler & Bursch, said they will represent the board at no taxpayer cost.
The lawsuit will argue that low-income and minority families face unfair burdens due to the restrictions, and that the state Constitution guarantees all school children have the right to equal opportunity for learning.
Newsom issued an order on July 17 to mandate remote learning for counties on the state’s official watch list for high rates of COVID-19. Counties can reopen their schools only if they remain off the list for 14 consecutive days, by sustaining appropriate infection rates below the state’s thresholds.
“While wealthy families generally have the technology, equipment, high-speed internet and the ability to begin the school year with an entirely virtual distant learning model, many lower income families without the same tools and education will suffer greatly if the schools remain closed,” Tyler said in the email.
Tyler said the order does not make certain that children born to immigrant parents—who don’t know how to read or write English—are being offered adequate instruction and supervision.
When Newsom issued the mandate, 32 counties—including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange—were on the watch list. “Our students, our teachers, staff, and certainly parents, we all prefer in-classroom instruction for all the obvious reasons—social and emotional, foundationally—but only if it can be done safely,” Newsom said at the time.
Attorney Jennifer Bursch, also representing the board, said children in California have a constitutional right to equal opportunity in education.
“The governor denied them these rights and did so without adequately considering the disparate impact these restrictions would have on the disadvantaged, ” Bursch said. “The governor’s ban on in-person learning will cause tens of thousands of kids to fall through the cracks and, in many cases, [they] will be harmed for life.”
The announced lawsuit comes after the OCBE voted 4-1 on July 13 to recommend reopening county schools without requiring students and staff to follow the state’s safety guidelines, including mask wearing and social distancing. The OCBE emphasized the importance of in-person instruction, calling remote learning an “utter failure.”
The board’s recommendations are not binding on the county’s 28 school districts, which independently create their own rules and guidelines for return.
Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares said in a July 29 statement he was “disappointed … but not surprised” by the legal action.
“Remember that locally elected school boards and superintendents will continue to approve and implement their own plans based on the guidance of state and local public health agencies and the needs of their communities. The Orange County Department of Education is working to support them every step of the way, and I am optimistic that we can unite as a county to return our students to safe and equitable learning environments,” Mijares said.
City News Service contributed to this report.