A civil liberties group submitted more points and authorities Thursday in a lawsuit aimed at stopping Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order preventing schools from reopening in Riverside County and elsewhere, while a county lawmaker’s effort to strip the governor of his emergency powers failed in the state Senate.
The Center for American Liberty filed a complaint against Newsom, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and other state officials last week in Los Angeles federal court, challenging new rules that would force many of the state’s districts to teach remotely when the 2020-21 academic year starts.
In an amended complaint and request for preliminary injunction, CAL added new plaintiffs and testimony from doctors claiming it was safe to send students back to school. No court dates have been set.
“Younger, healthier people have virtually zero risk of death from (COVID-19),” according to Dr. Scott Atlas, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and former chief of neuro-radiology at Stanford University Medical Center.
“No child under age 18 in the state of California has died due to infection from the coronavirus since tracking began on February 1, 2020 … unlike the seasonal flu, which kills approximately 200 children per year nationally,” he said.
CAL alleges that the closure order violates the constitutional guarantee to a basic education, federal due process and equal protection guarantees.
The group’s preliminary injunction filing contains data indicating that schools in parts of Europe have reopened without a surge in COVID-19 infections, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own research reflects that less than 2% of new virus transmissions in South Korea occurred people under age 20 since the start of the year.
“Unlike pneumonia from influenza viruses, in which the risk of the death to children is increased, COVID-19 death rates are effectively zero for children aged 0-10 and adolescents ages 11-20,” according to the injunction narrative.
The lawsuit alleges that the use of online learning in the recent 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 worst, nonexistent instruction.”
The suit cites multiple studies pointing to deficiencies in online learning, with only half of children benefiting compared to the number that would otherwise gain from in-class instruction. The results are particularly bad for minority kids from disadvantaged communities, the research shows.
“The governor’s one-size-fits-all approach has upended the care fully tailored plans that teachers and administrators have developed to reopen schools this fall safely and effectively,” according to the suit.
The governor’s decision was the result of consideration for the safety of students and teachers, according to Newsom’s spokesman Jesse Melgar. He said the state would address CAL’s challenge in court.
“As the governor has explained, science drives the state’s decisions in this pandemic,” Melgar said when the suit was filed.
Newsom said campuses will only be allowed to open in counties that have been off the state’s monitoring list for at least 14 days. Counties are placed on the monitoring list based on a variety of factors including coronavirus positivity, testing and hospitalization rates.
Under Newsom’s previously announced guidelines, in schools allowed to open, students and staff in individual classrooms will be sent home when a single case in the class is confirmed. The entire school will be closed if cases are confirmed in multiple classrooms, or if more than 5% of the school tests positive for the virus.
“Learning in the state of California is simply non-negotiable,” Newsom said earlier this month. “Schools must … provide meaningful instruction during this pandemic whether they are physically open or not. … Our students, our teachers, staff and certainly parents, we all prefer in-classroom instruction for all the obvious reasons — social and emotional, foundationally — but only if it can be done safely.”
Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, has been at the forefront of a social media campaign dubbed “Reopen California Schools,” assailing Newsom’s cancellation order, which impacts 36 other counties in addition to Riverside, where more than 400,000 children attend public and charter schools, according to the county Office of Education.
Melendez joined with Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee, in sponsoring Senate Concurrent Resolution 93, which sought a vote on whether to permit Newsom to continue exercising temporary powers granted by the Legislature on March 4 in response to the coronavirus emergency.
Melendez asked for the entire Senate to consider the resolution, but her request was denied Thursday on a partisan 25-9 vote.
“During the last five months, Gov. Newsom exceeded (his) authority by signing billions of dollars in no-bid contracts for masks; issuing confusing, contradictory and conflicting shutdown orders on hundreds of thousands of California businesses and restricting Californians from using public beaches, parks and attending religious services,” Jones said. “We elect governors; we don’t coronate kings in this country and certainly not in California.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.