Civil liberties advocacy group sues Gov. Newsom over order for California school closures this fall

A civil liberties advocacy group has now filed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order on school closures this fall during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In order to resume in-person class instruction, a county must have been off the state's COVID-19 watch list for 14 consecutive days. Districts in counties on the watch list, including several in Southern California, will only be able to do distance learning.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new guidelines Friday to determine which school districts are allowed to reopen classrooms in the fall.

The Center for American Liberty believes the restrictions violate the constitutional guarantee to basic education and claims online learning in the past was a "failed experiment" in which students were "unable to log on and access online learning -- or if they could, experienced at best ineffective and at worse nonexistent instruction."

Attorney General Xavier Becerra, state Public Health Officer Sonia Angell and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond are also named in the suit.

"California taxes 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,'' CAL CEO and lead attorney Harmeet Dhillon said. "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."

RELATED: Doctor says returning to classroom is similar to entering ER
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In our daily 'Ask the Doctor' segment, Dr. Anthony Cardillo, a former teacher, says if he were to have to go back into the classroom environment he would approach it the same way he approaches going into the emergency department at the hospital: mask, shield, gloves, and social distancing.

The suit also alleges that the restrictions are an affront to the constitutional guarantee to federal due process and equal protection guarantees, and the established right to an effective education for disabled children.

The governor has said his decision takes into account the safety of students and teachers.

According to the lawsuit, the governor's "one-size-fits-all" approach preempts the ability of school boards and other governing bodies to decide what works best in preparing to restart classes this fall, including limitations on classroom sizes, staggered classes, enhanced sanitation practices and use of facial coverings.

The plaintiffs cite U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicating that children between the ages of 5 and 17 are hospitalized for coronavirus at a rate of 5.3 per 100,000, compared to a national average of 113.6 per 100,000, raising questions about the necessity of public health-based school closures.

"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."

City News Service contributed to this report.
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