COSTA MESA, Calif.—Parents and students gathered on Aug. 26 outside the Orange County Department of Education building in Costa Mesa, California, to support a lawsuit calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to reopen public and private schools.
On Aug. 21, the law firm of Tyler & Bursch filed two petitions against Newsom and Sandra Shewry, the state’s public health officer, pursuing an injunction to dismiss current mandates preventing schools from reopening for in-person instruction for the 2020–2021 school year.
The courts ordered the state to respond by Aug. 28.
The Orange County Board of Education is a plaintiff in one of the two suits. Petitioners include the Palm Lane Charter School in Anaheim, Calvary Chapel of San Jose, and Calvary Murrieta Christian Schools, among others.
Supporters of the lawsuit argue the governor’s July 17 executive order outlining his plan for schools failed to acknowledge the significant fiscal burden it places on private schools, as well as the negative impact it has on the quality of education and overall mental well-being of students.
“This case is of such importance and such significance, and it is so detrimental to children all across our state, that I believe the California Supreme Court recognizes that and said, ‘Gov. Newsom, you come and stand in front of us and defend your closure, and you better provide some darn good reasons for that,’” Robert Tyler, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said at the Aug. 26 press conference.
“He is not going to be able to do that. We have many experts presented showing the fallacy of closing schools.”
The lawsuits say Newsom’s mandates violate the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, by depriving students of the proper resources to receive an adequate education.
Many teachers are against returning to in-person learning until the pandemic is under control. The California Teachers Association supported Newsom’s decision to move forward with the distance learning model in a July letter, arguing schools cannot reopen until they are safe.
“Unfortunately, many local districts and communities don’t have the necessary resources or capacity to maintain even the most basic prevention measures of six feet physical distancing and limiting contacts, much less the other important preventative actions such as personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and tracing, or adequate ventilation and cleaning supplies,” the letter states.
Speaking at the Aug. 26 gathering, County Board of Education member Dr. Ken Willams said: “We know that this virus is not the killer that it was said to be. In fact, according to the science and data, and from my clinical experience treating patients with COVID, children are at the lowest cohort for this disease.”
According to the private school suit, Newsom declared a $5.3 billion budget in funding for public schools to supplement appropriate resources needed for distance-learning models, but failed to make any portion of the funding available for private schools.
Because of the unequal distribution in funding, private schools were “left at a disadvantage to provide equal interaction, assignments, and support which would be equivalent to in-person learning.”
In an Aug. 24 press release, Tyler called the governor’s orders “unconstitutional.”
“They undermine the fundamental right to an education for students and threaten to force the closure of hundreds of private schools across the state who are not receiving any state funds and cannot exist without the ability to open their doors without governmental interference,” the release stated.
Parents have also expressed their concern for the long-term psychological impact distance learning places on their children. Deborah Nham, who attended the rally, is in favor of reopening schools immediately.
“A lot of kids now are suffering from depression and also self-harming behavior. We’re hearing lots of reports from our friends and family of difficulty with teenagers who are just hurting right now,” Nham told The Epoch Times.
Another parent, Melissa Crew, said her son was cyber-bullied on an Aug. 24 Zoom call.
Psychologist Shannae Anderson, who was cited in the lawsuit, said: “The statewide lockdown has created a mental health crisis that put children at greater risk for abuse than ever before.
“I have had patients attempt suicide, relapse into drug and alcohol addiction, and need to be hospitalized for serious emotional distress. The helplessness and powerlessness that many experience in the face of the lockdown can reactivate old trauma wounds which render parents distracted and easily overwhelmed.”
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Fitzgibbons recommended reopening schools, saying there are ways to prevent a mass spread of the disease.
“The infectious consequences of opening schools are manageable and can be mitigated, particularly for teachers who feel they are at risk,” Williams said.
County Board of Education member Mari Barke said, “We know that for many children, there is far more risk to them being out of school than in school.”