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By Collin Breaux

The Orange County Board of Education (OCBE) plans to take legal action against Gov. Gavin Newsom and the head of the state’s public health office over the governor’s recent order that effectively keeps campuses closed and necessitates the continued use of virtual learning for the start of the upcoming school year.

The OCBE voted, 4-0, during a closed session on Tuesday, July 28, to file the lawsuit, which seeks a court order setting aside the state’s order that temporarily prevents on-campus, in-person instruction. In a July 17 announcement, Newsom had said California schools only could  physically reopen when their county was off the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.

OCBE President Ken Williams read a statement after the closed session explaining the board’s decision.

“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,” Williams said. “The state has the broad responsibility to ensure basic educational equality.”

Williams said the July 17 order does not ensure that children of working single parents are adequately educated through virtual learning or provide sufficient instruction and supervision for children of immigrant parents who encounter language barriers.

“Further, the state has failed to address how high-risk students and those without adequate parental support will navigate the coming weeks and months through distance learning,” Williams said. “Therefore, we believe the July 17 order violates the constitutional rights of our students.”

Students and families should have the option of in-person learning, Williams said.

OCBE had previously recommended reopening schools. During a special meeting on July 13, the OCBE approved a white paper outlining their recommendations, drawing national attention by advocating for reopening without safety measures such as face masks and social distancing. The board’s recommendations were not mandates that could be enforced, because individual school districts have the authority to decide their own local school policies.

The OCBE had approved the white paper, which is defined as an authoritative report or guide, by a 4-1 vote. Trustees Williams, Tim Shaw, Lisa Sparks, and Mari Barke voted yes. Trustee Rebecca “Beckie” Gomez voted no.

Gomez reportedly did not attend the July 28 discussion on OCBE’s lawsuit or vote on it. Gomez previously had spoken against the reopening recommendations approved by the other OCBE trustees.

Attorneys for OCBE will reportedly represent the board pro bono in the lawsuit. Members of the public variously spoke for and against OCBE taking legal action against the state during the July 28 meeting.

Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD)—comprising areas including San Clemente, Dana Point, and San Juan Capistrano—announced it will begin the 2020-21 school year with distance learning, per Newsom’s mandate.

Before Newsom’s order, the CUSD Board of Trustees approved a flexible reopening plan that allowed for in-person and virtual learning, with face coverings, social distancing, and reduced class sizes required during on-campus activities.

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