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Parents Sue Over California’s School Closures

© O'Dea at Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

The lawsuit argues parents and children are being denied their right to a “basic minimum education” under the California Constitution because of COVID-era distance learning.

Nine California parents are suing the state over a plan announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week that would keep most schools closed for the beginning of the coming school year.

The 35-page complaint alleges parents and children are being denied their right under the California Constitution to a “basic minimum education” because of COVID-19 prevention measures that will continue distance learning for the vast majority of the state’s schoolchildren.

The suit also claims the guidelines violate the Equal Protection Clause by allowing certain schools, summer camps and childcare centers to remain open while forcing others to stay closed.

Newsom unveiledthe new guidelines on Friday, which order public and private schools in counties onthe state’s watch list to continue distance learning when the school year starts back up. Schools can welcome students back to campus when their county remains off the state’s monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.

Currently, there are 34 counties on the state’s monitoring list which are home to more than 37 million Californians.

Harmeet Dhillon, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said parents and elected school board leaders should be the ones driving decisions about whether to continue remote learning, return to in-person classes, or have some combination of the two.

“The governor took that choice away,” she said. “It’s devastating and it must be stopped.”

Dhillon and her nonprofit group Center for American Liberty have also challenged a number of Newsom’s early pandemic restrictions on churches, beaches, protests and other measures.

“I frankly thought we were reaching the end of having to litigate these issues in the courts,” she said.

But the San Francisco attorney and Republican Party official argues her group’s litigation strategy has worked.

“In response to our lawsuits, the Governor of California and the state have, in some cases worked with us, [and] in other cases, unilaterally gone and changed their orders” on churches, protests and certain businesses, Dhillon said.

The lawsuit argues distance learning adversely affects racial minorities, lower-income families, and special needs children.

Christine Ruiz says services for her severely autistic son, including speech and occupational therapy, ended abruptly when schools closed. Her son, identified by his initials, Z.R., is also listed as a plaintiff in the suit.

“Regression in special education students is dangerous and profound when their services are cut off,” Ruiz said, adding that her family has begun paying for private services in the meantime.

Z.R. is “dependent on everybody and we're trying to counteract that and make him independent,” Ruiz said about her son, but homeschooling makes that challenging.

“It's upsetting. It's heartbreaking,”she said.

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