OC Board of Education announces lawsuit against California over school closures

The decision to sue runs counter to what many public commenters asked for during an online school board meeting.

Jessica De Nova Image
Thursday, July 30, 2020
OC Board of Education sues California over school closures
The Orange County Board of Education voted unanimously to file a lawsuit against the state of California over school closures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- The Orange County Board of Education announced that it has decided -- by a 4-0 vote -- to file a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Public Health Officer to seek a court order that sets aside the state orders preventing public schools from holding in-person classes and resuming services on campus.

The unanimous vote came during a closed session Tuesday night, according to a statement.

The California Supreme Court has interpreted the California Constitution to require that California school children have a constitutional right to substantially equal opportunities for learning, and the governor's order will unequally burden the most underprivileged families of California, the board's lawyers said in a statement.

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The decision to sue runs counter to what many commenters asked for during the board's online public meeting Tuesday, calling on the board not to fight the state and comply with health guidelines issued by the state.

In a statement, the law firm Tyler & Bursch said it agreed to represent the school board pro bono "to protect the vulnerable children in California.''

The lawsuit will also be supported by the nonprofit legal organization Advocates for Faith & Freedom.

"California children have a constitutional right to both an education and equal protection under the law. The governor denied them these rights and did so without adequately considering the disparate impact these restrictions would have on the disadvantaged,'' said attorney Jennifer Bursch of Tyler & Bursch. "We brought this lawsuit to protect the single mom and her children, children whose parents do not read or write English, and children with special needs."

"We are going to be asking for the court to require that schools reopen and give the option of parents to either put their kids in class or to do some sort of hybrid learning or distanced learning, because those kids that are most at risk at this point in time, they don't have the option," said Robert Tyler with Advocates for Faith & Freedom.

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Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Eyewitness News has interviewed parents, students, educators and doctors that make up or treat families in the regions of Orange County that are impacted most by the virus. This includes the areas of Anaheim and Santa Ana. Parents from these communities have told Eyewitness News that they do not want to send their children to school if masks and social distancing are not enforced. We asked Tyler -- then who is this lawsuit really representing?

Tyler responded, "It's representing those families. The school district has the option of, you know, providing social distancing as a requirement, face masks."

On Wednesday, Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares noted that the school board's vote came after it had previously recommended that students return to school without face coverings or social distancing.

"I am disappointed by this latest legal action, but not surprised," Mijares said in a statement. "This lawsuit continues the pattern of a highly litigious board majority that seems to have no qualms about diverting time, energy and financial resources from students and programs to satisfy their own ideological interests."

Epidemiologists at the University of California, Irvine told Eyewitness News that in March, the virus was mostly concentrated in affluent neighborhoods in Orange County's coast. And even with schools closed, the wave of cases has made its way to low income communities in the cities of Anaheim and Santa Ana.

Attorneys say the lawsuit is expected to be filed sometime next week.