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Lawsuit seeks to halt Newsom’s school closure order

Attorney Harmeet Dhillon is challenging the school closure order.
Attorney Harmeet Dhillon is challenging Gov. Newsom’s order that forbids schools from reopening in counties on the state’s COVID-19 watch list.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

A conservative group that has fought California’s stay-at-home orders is suing Gov. Gavin Newsom over his school-closure mandate for counties with high rates of COVID-19.

The lawsuit announced Tuesday by the Center for American Liberty is aimed at halting Newsom’s order, announced Friday, that forbids all public and private schools from reopening for in-person learning in counties on the state’s COVID-19 watch list until those counties meet certain criteria.

The lawsuit accuses Newsom of putting politics ahead of children and denying children access to a meaningful education. It says school closures will disproportionately hurt students of low-income families, students with disabilities and students of color.

“In Defendants’ rush to enact these new restrictions, they have placed politics ahead of the wellbeing of children, and children’s important — indeed, fundamental — interest in receiving equal access to meaningful education,” the lawsuit states.

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The Center for American Liberty is headed by attorney and Republican Party official Harmeet Dhillon and has sued Newsom multiple times for actions he’s taken during the pandemic.

For example, the group has sued on behalf of people whose high school graduations, weddings and surgeries were allegedly disrupted by the stay-at-home orders, and it has sued Newsom for creating a $75-million fund for undocumented Californians affected by COVID-19.

The governor’s office said Newsom ordered schools closed based on science.

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“As the Governor has explained, science drives the state’s decisions in this pandemic,” said Jesse Melgar, spokesman for the governor’s office, in a statement. “We will defend this challenge to the Governor’s exercise of emergency authority in this crisis as we have all others, and we note that every federal court to rule on such a challenge to date has ruled that the exercise of authority is lawful.”

The lawsuit was also filed against the attorney general, the state superintendent of schools and the state public health officer.

The plaintiffs are nine parents with children attending public and private schools in the state, as well as one student.

All the parents said their children had suffered in some way due to the school closures, including declines in mental health because of a lack of interaction with teachers and peers, declines in discipline when it came to completing schoolwork, and poor-quality distance learning, according to the lawsuit. Some of the parents said they had to pay for private school or tutoring because the distance learning their public schools provided was insufficient.

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One Los Angeles-area parent in the lawsuit said her son, who has autism, had received no special education services since schools closed, so she hired a tutor to help him learn. Another parent, from Orange County, said her children had received no live instruction, only work packets, from her district school, so she moved her children to a private school.

Another plaintiff, Lacee Beaulieu, is a La Jolla mother of students who says the increased screen time due to distance learning has harmed her children. Her children are depressed, have trouble sleeping and suffer from a lack of social interaction with their peers, according to the lawsuit.

School and state leaders who support keeping schools closed acknowledge that students need in-person learning, but they say closures are needed for student and staff safety amid a continued COVID-19 surge.

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The lawsuit points out that the state is allowing child-care programs to remain open and questions why schools are held to stricter standards. The lawsuit also cites several studies from other countries that suggest children and schools do not play a large role in transmitting the coronavirus.

Research about children and schools amid the coronavirus outbreak is mixed; other studies have suggested that children do play a significant role in virus transmission.


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