A group of California parents sued Tuesday to reopen the schools for in-person learning, arguing that shutdown is discriminatory and scientifically unsound, given that children are at least risk from the novel coronavirus.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that public, charter and private schools must provide “distance learning” until their counties meet targets for COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, which will prevent more than 80% of the state’s 5.9 million schoolchildren from receiving in-person classroom instruction.
“The Governor’s decision to shut down educational facilities in more than 30 counties denies children in these counties their right to a basic education,” said San Francisco lawyer Harmeet K. Dhillon, CEO of the Center for American Liberty, which filed the lawsuit.
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court seeks an order blocking the state restrictions, and a ruling that the plaintiffs’ children “should be allowed in-person instruction without delay.”
“With the school year commencing in mere weeks from the date of this filing, time is of the essence, and the Court should not hesitate to ensure that Plaintiffs’ fundamental interests in securing a meaningful education for their children are preserved and protected from Defendants’ arbitrary actions,” said the motion.
Thirty-four of the state’s 58 counties, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco, are currently on the COVID-19 watchlist and would thus be ineligible for in-person instruction until they stabilize their cases and hospitalizations.
“Learning is non-negotiable,” said Mr. Newsom in a Friday statement. “The virus will be with us for a year or more, and school districts must provide meaningful instruction in the midst of this pandemic. In California, health data will determine when a school can be physically open – and when it must close – but learning should never stop.”
California and other Sun Belt states have become the summer hotspots for the virus, with 400,769 confirmed cases as of Tuesday and about 9,000 new cases per day for the past week, but the lawsuit pointed out that no children ages 0-17 have died in California from COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control reported that children are hospitalized at a rate of 5.3 per 100,000 compared to an overall rate of 113.6 per 100,000, while studies out of Europe, Asia and Australia show that children are not primary drivers of the virus.
The lawsuit cited a study released July 13 of 2,045 schoolchildren from the Dresden Technical University in Germany found that schools did not become hotspots after reopening, and that children may even serve as a “brake on infection.”
Ms. Dhillon said that the governor’s “inexplicable restrictions on school reopening [are] not based in scientific facts, and [are] completely arbitrary especially in light of the fact that California allows all of the functional components of schools allowed in camps and childcare.”
“More fundamentally, the school closing ‘plan’ is no plan at all, and ignores the state’s legal duties to California’s children,” she said.
A few days before Mr. Newsom’s announcement, the state’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified, announced that they would open in the fall for only online learning.
The lawsuit also argued that the California plan discriminates against disadvantaged and minority students with less access to the reliable technology required for successful online learning.
“Wealthy parents can still hire tutors and educate their children at home, while most will be forced to choose between their jobs and their children,” said Ms. Dhillon. “Special needs children are left out in the cold altogether, despite federal and state mandates.”