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California Supreme Court rejects petition to force LAUSD to partially reopen for in-person classes

A seated woman works on a laptop on a table in a kitchen.
Los Angeles Unified School teacher Casey Jagusch teaches her students remotely from her kitchen table.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The California Supreme Court has rejected a petition filed by two children’s advocacy groups to require the Los Angeles Unified School District to partially reopen schools for in-person instruction for students experiencing the greatest need.

The court on Wednesday did not issue a written ruling in denying the petition, which alleged that L.A. Unified was violating state law by not offering in-person instruction “to the greatest extent possible.”

The organizations, the Alliance for Children’s Rights and the Learning Rights Law Center, were seeking to force the district to provide as much in-person instruction as possible under Los Angeles County public health guidelines, which has allowed for small cohorts of up to 25% of a school’s enrollment with safety protocols in place.

Alex G. Romain, a partner at Milbank, the law firm that filed the petition on behalf of the organizations, called the denial from the court “a profound disappointment.”

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“These students cannot access education online, have gone without meaningful access to education since March 2020, and will now likely lose the entire 2020-21 school year,” Romain said in a statement. “Notwithstanding the Court’s decision, we hope that the District will not abandon these students who often have no voice and who have experienced such extraordinary learning loss during this pandemic.”

The organizations believed that the total school closures would result in “irreparable harm” for students already experiencing learning loss, particularly students experiencing the greatest needs, such as students with disabilities, English learners and those who are particularly struggling with distance learning.

L.A. Unified could not immediately provide a comment.

The groups filed the petition to the state’s highest court five days after L.A. Unified Supt. Austin Beutner announced the district was shutting down all school campuses for in-person instruction as coronavirus cases surged in the county. At the time, Beutner said “extraordinary and quite dangerous” infection rates were too high to resume in-person instruction.

Also, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer called for all K-12 campuses to shut down through January amid the raging coronavirus surge but stopped short of ordering them to close.

It is not the first school reopening-related lawsuit the state Supreme Court has rejected. In August, a law firm filed a petition on behalf of the Orange County Board of Education against Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sandra Shewry, then-acting director of the state Department of Public Health, in an effort to reopen campuses for in-person instruction.

The board alleged that state public health and executive orders violated state and federal equal protection laws, even as the Department of Public Health began to allow schools to seek waivers for partial reopening. The court denied the petition less than a month later. A second petition, filed on behalf of private schools, was also denied.

Times staff writer Maura Dolan contributed to this report.


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