Lawsuit seeks to halt Newsom’s school closure order

Harmeet Dhillon challenged Gov. Newsom's order keeping schools closed in counties on a state watch list.
Harmeet Dhillon is an attorney challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order forbidding all public and private schools from reopening campuses in counties on the state’s COVID-19 watch list until those counties meet certain criteria. San Diego County is on the watch list.
(File / AP)

A conservative group that has fought California’s stay-at-home orders is suing Gov. Gavin Newsom over his order to keep schools closed in counties with high rates of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The lawsuit announced July 21 by The Center for American Liberty is aimed at halting Newsom’s order July 17 forbidding all public and private schools from reopening for in-person learning in counties on the state’s COVID-19 watch list until those counties meet certain criteria.

The order requires those schools to provide remote or online learning. San Diego County is on the watch list.

The lawsuit accuses Newsom of putting politics ahead of children and denying children access to a meaningful education. It says school closures will disproportionately hurt students of low-income families, students with disabilities and students of color.

“In defendants’ rush to enact these new restrictions, they have placed politics ahead of the well-being of children and children’s important — indeed, fundamental — interest in receiving equal access to meaningful education,” the lawsuit states.

The governor’s office said Newsom ordered schools closed based on science.

“As the governor has explained, science drives the state’s decisions in this pandemic,” Jesse Melgar, spokesman for the governor’s office, said in a statement. “We will defend this challenge to the governor’s exercise of emergency authority in this crisis as we have all others, and we note that every federal court to rule on such a challenge to date has ruled that the exercise of authority is lawful.”

The lawsuit also was filed against the state attorney general, superintendent of schools and public health officer.

The plaintiffs are nine parents with children attending public and private schools in the state, as well as one student.

One plaintiff, Lacee Beaulieu, is a La Jolla mother of two San Diego Unified School District students who says the increased screen time due to distance learning has harmed her children. Her children are depressed, have trouble sleeping and suffer from a lack of social interaction with their peers, according to the lawsuit.

One Los Angeles-area parent in the lawsuit said her son, who has autism, has received no special-education services since schools closed, so she hired a tutor to help him learn. Another parent from the Capistrano Unified district said her children received no live instruction, only work packets, from their school, so she moved her children to a private school.

School and state leaders who support keeping schools closed acknowledge that students need in-person learning, but they say closures are needed for student and staff safety amid the continued coronavirus surge.

The lawsuit points out that the state is allowing child care programs to remain open and questions why schools are held to stricter standards. The lawsuit also cites several studies from other countries that suggest children and schools do not play a large role in transmitting the coronavirus.

Research about children and schools amid the coronavirus is mixed; other studies have suggested that children play a significant role in virus transmission.

The Center for American Liberty, headed by attorney and Republican Party official Harmeet Dhillon, has sued Newsom multiple times for his COVID-19 actions.

For example, the group has sued on behalf of people who said their high school graduation, wedding and surgery were disrupted by the stay-at-home orders, and it sued Newsom for creating a $75 million fund for undocumented Californians affected by COVID-19.