The Orange County Board of Education, which has recently been criticized for recommending the reopening of schools without masks or social distancing, announced Tuesday that it will sue Governor Gavin Newsom so that Californian students can return to class in the fall .
Members voted 4-0 on Tuesday during a special meeting to continue a lawsuit overturning a Newsom decision of July 17 that involved schools in districts that depend on high coronavirus rates under state surveillance, including the districts Orange and Los Angeles – to return to distance learning in the new school year.
After hearing nearly 30 public comments, the majority of which were largely against legal action, the board members met in a closed meeting and returned to report the request to continue the lawsuit.
Trustee Beckie Gomez, who often votes against the board majority, was absent from this vote. Ken Williams, Mari Barke, Tim Shaw and Lisa Sparks voted for the lawsuit.
"We made the decision to put our students' needs first by filing this lawsuit," said Williams, the chairman of the board, after announcing the vote from a statement by the board. "The state has not addressed how high-risk students and those without adequate parental support will navigate distance learning in the coming weeks and months."
The statement alleged that Newsom's order violates the same protection clauses in the California Constitution that guarantee students equal access to public education. Murrieta-based law firm Tyler & Bursch, based in Anaheim, has agreed to treat the case free of charge, Williams said.
Attorney Robert Tyler confirmed on Wednesday that his law firm had worked with the board on potential litigation from the nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has questioned the panel's longstanding record of a call address at each meeting.
Tuesday's session consisted of four closed sessions on existing and anticipated litigation, including a discussion of the appeal and two lawsuits brought by the Orange County Board of Education against the Orange County Department of Education, the agency under which the board operates.
Ministry of Education of Orange County Supt. Al Mijares said in a statement on Wednesday that he was disappointed to hear about the board's plan to take legal action against the state, but was not surprised.
"This lawsuit continues the pattern of a very controversial board majority that appears to have no concerns about distracting students' time, energy, and financial resources to meet their own ideological interests," he said.
Mijares said his department would continue to work with local school authorities and superintendents to support reopening plans "based on state and local health agency guidelines and the needs of their communities."
Members of the Education Committee have repeatedly claimed that ordering school closures to prevent the spread of coronavirus is not scientifically valid and does more harm than good because children are denied social interaction and are stuck in homes that may not be suitable for learning environments.
Williams and Barke, the vice president of the board, held a community forum on June 24 with a group of doctors and policy experts, many of whom reiterated the board's claims, saying that children have a very low, almost negligible risk of spreading the Corona virus.
The forum was moderated by Will Swaim, former founding editor of OC Weekly and president of the conservative-minded California Policy Center think tank, a vocal critic of labor unions and proponents of school choice.
Swaim wrote a discussion white paper citing the advocacy groups of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, highlighting the adverse effects that school experience can have on children.
This document recommended returning to school and outlining the disinfection and hygiene protocol, but did not include any instructions on wearing masks, social distance, or class reduction that are included in other state and county recommendations, including those recommended by the Department of Education from Orange County.
Tyler said Wednesday that schools are being forced to deepen inequalities between students with technology and resources to succeed in distance learning and socio-economically disadvantaged people who may lack the infrastructure and support needed to do so to thrive.
"There are so many children who will fall through the cracks, and this concern is exactly the concern that board members have themselves," said Tyler. "The decision to close schools mainly has a negative impact on workers, the salt of the earth [people] and is simply not fair." Someone has to fight for these families. "
Tyler's company will file a legal complaint on behalf of the Board of Education, in which Newsom, California's health agency, Dr. Sonia Angell and the state superintendent for public orders Tony Thurmond were named as defendants, although no date was given.
The group's pro bono work is supported by Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a non-profit company that Tyler founded in 2005 to fund legal struggles for religious freedoms. During the pandemic, for example, the group supported the right of the churches to reopen as essential institutions.
In public comments to the board members on Tuesday, parents, teachers and community members gave different opinions on the lawsuit. Of 29 commentators whose first names were read only by the board member, 22 criticized the board's action.
"Whose interests do you really protect? Who are the real benefactors of all your actions? “Asked Isabella. "I suggest you stop and stop and pay attention to the community. You should serve the public, not your private life or your bank accounts. "
Those who supported the move spoke passionately about children whose physical, mental and emotional needs were neglected in distance learning. Leigh, who described herself as a lawyer with 30 years of experience, said she usually advises against litigation, but not this time.
"I am here to urge you to process living hell out of the July 17th mandate," she said. "This is the only decision that matters – it is a life and death decision for some of these families."
The Orange County Board of Education is not the only group interested in challenging the Newsom school closure order. On July 21, the conservative non-profit center for American Freedom announced that it had filed a similar lawsuit.
Support our reporting by becoming a digital subscriber.