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OC Board Of Education Will File Lawsuit In Hopes Of Reopening School Campuses

Orange County Board of Education trustees Ken Williams, Mari Barke, Lisa Sparks, and Tim Shaw discussed challenging the state's school reopening guidance at a meeting on July 28, 2020. (Screenshot via Zoom)
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The Orange County Board of Education voted 4-0 at its meeting on Tuesday night to file a lawsuit challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom’s directive to keep campuses closed in counties where the coronavirus is still spreading.

Before the board went into closed session to discuss the lawsuit, the majority of people making public comments -– which were delivered both in-person and electronically -– asked them not to pursue it.

But, ultimately, the board voted 4-0 in favor of the litigation, with one trustee, Beckie Gomez, not present for the discussion and vote on the issue.

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As a result, the board will seek a court order “that sets aside the state's order preventing public schools from holding in-person classes and the resumption of services on campus.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued new rules that could force K-12 school campuses across much of California — including all of the greater Los Angeles region — to remain closed until COVID-19 metrics improve. Schools must offer "distance learning only" until the county has been off California's coronavirus monitoring list for at least 14 days, the state rules say.

In a statement read publicly after the vote, the O.C. Board of Education said, “While some families have the technology, equipment and ability to begin the school year with an entirely virtual distance learning model, many families will suffer greatly and experience many unknown unintended consequences if the schools remain closed.” The law firm Tyler & Bursch will represent the board pro bono.

You can listen to the public portions of the board meeting in the official recording below:

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OCDE · OC Special Board Meeting 7.28.20
This same Orange County boardroom was the backdrop of fierce debate earlier this month over how schools should reopen when these trustees voted 4-1 in support of a white paper that recommended reopening schools in the fall without strict face covering or physical distancing requirements. Those recommendations contradict the Orange County Department of Education’s own guidance.

In Los Angeles County, Matthew Brach – a member of the Palos Verdes Unified School District Board of Education who is also a parent – is one of several plaintiffs in another lawsuit that is also challenging Newsom’s directive and the California Department of Public Health guidance.

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.