Center for American Liberty Sues California Gov. Newsom for Banning Schools from Reopening

California Gov. Gavin Newsom visits the Cal Fire McClellan Reload Base in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, July 9, 2020, to discuss the state's new efforts to protect emergency personnel and evacuees from COVID-19 during wildfires. (AP Photo/Hector Amezcua, Pool)
AP Photo/Hector Amezcua, Poo

The Center for American Liberty, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Americans, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday challenging California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order barring most schools in the state from reopening because of the spread of the coronavirus.

The center explained the Brach v. Newsom lawsuit in a press release on its website:

On behalf of plaintiffs Matthew Brach, Alison Walsh, John Ziegler, Kenneth Fleming, Erica Sephton, Lacee Beaulieu, Jesse Petrilla, Roger Hackett, and Christine Ruiz, the Center for American Liberty, in coordination with the Dhillon Law Group, filed a lawsuit against Governor Gavin Newsom challenging [the] order barring in-classroom education in 32 counties and for 80 percent of California’s children. This decision by the Governor violates the California constitutional guarantee to a basic education, federal due process and equal protection guarantees, and the federal right to an effective education for disabled children.

Governor Newsom’s July 17, 2020 decree that both public and private school facilities will remain closed at the start of the fall semester, flies in the face of science, data, and the knowledge learned from the failed online education experiment of the 2020 spring semester in California’s schools, during which many children were unable to log on and access online learning—or if they could, experienced at best ineffective and at worst, nonexistent instruction. What’s more, family after family has reported the deleterious effect of being shut-in on their children’s physical and mental health, and have seen them withdraw and lose hope just as they should be focusing on growing, learning, and seeking a better future through education.

In these counties, education will be relegated to online distance learning — which for too many families — particularly those in minority communities, the growing financially distressed population of California, and families of special needs children — means no learning at all. Governor Newsom’s unilateral act even bars parents in most of the state from taking their kids to a private school to obtain the education the state denies.

“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,” Harmeet K. Dhillon, CEO of the center, said. “California taxes citizens and spends $100 billion of state and federal dollars annually on education.”

“This year, there will be little to show for that massive spending, other than increased depression, suicide risk, stunted learning, and the shattered dreams of millions of California children and families,” Dhillon continued. “California families — particularly the most vulnerable — will suffer economic loss, heartbreaking personal choices, and a state that utterly fails its obligations, all based on politics and not science.”

According to Dhillon, Governor Newsom’s plan picks winners and losers in schooling based on zip code and tax bracket, meaning “Many legal battles in this state have been fought and won to prevent exactly this result.”

“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,” Dhillon said. “Special needs children are left out in the cold altogether, despite federal and state mandates.”

“California cannot ignore its legal duties and harm these children, and we will not stand by to see a repeat of the failures of the spring and the lasting impacts on many California families. California deserves better,” Dhillon said.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Newsom’s statement outlining his decision to keep almost all schools closed:

On Friday, Newsom released his plan for how schools can start the new academic year during the coronavirus pandemic, which in recent weeks has roared through the state, setting records in the number of cases and hospitalizations. The plan essentially barred in-person classes in any of the 33 counties now on the state’s coronavirus watch list, representing the vast majority of California schoolchildren.

“Learning is non-negotiable,” Newsom said in his announcement calling for a move to distance learning. “Students, staff and parents all prefer in-classroom instruction, but only if it can be done safely.”

Christine Ruiz, a plaintiff in the case with two autistic children, said in a zoom call with Dhillon her children can’t get the help they need at home.

“When my son goes to school, he has a team,” Ruiz said. “We are the ones left behind.”

“I don’t know any educator in California who believes we should reopen (schools) with business as usual,” Dhillon said in the Chronicle report. “We’re advocating parental choice: Take the reasonable risk of sending children to school” or face the prospect of having them fall behind for at least a year.

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