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California Parents Sue State over School Closures, Describe ‘Emotional Struggles’ Caused By the Lockdown

(Mike Blake/Reuters)

California parents held a press conference Thursday to discuss their lawsuit against the state over Governor Gavin Newsom’s new coronavirus restrictions ordering most school districts to begin the fall semester with online-only instruction.

More than a dozen parents filed a lawsuit against California after the governor rolled back the state’s reopening plans last month and put 33 of the state’s 58 counties on a “watchlist,” requiring them to offer only online classes until their coronavirus rates decline. The order affects more than 1,000 school districts that cover more than 10,500 schools and 6,000,000 students.

“We all prefer in-classroom instruction for all the obvious reasons,” Newsom said, “but only if it can be done safely.”

In the state’s “rush to enact these new restrictions, they have placed special interests ahead of the wellbeing of the children, and children’s fundamental right to receive a basic minimum education,” states the lawsuit, which is seeking a temporary restraining order against the mandated school closures.

“I have watched how this closure of schools since March has impacted my children,” said Matthew Brach, whose name is on the case, Brach vs Newsom, and who is father to a sixteen-year-old son and thirteen-year-old daughter.

“My daughter has emotionally struggled. My son, through the lack of interaction with peers and with teachers has become more withdrawn and detached from school,” Brach said, adding that he is a member of the school board of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, where his children attend school. “I am acutely aware of what our community is looking for, what they want.”

“I am aware of just how much this is affecting all students,” Brach continued. “Students who are already disadvantaged are being adversely affected by this order, and I feel a personal responsibility to make sure that they get this one chance at a guaranteed education.”

“Not all kids will go off to college,” he noted.

Attorney Harmeet Dhillon, who is representing the parents, argues that California’s school closure order is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on the arbitrary criteria of where students live.

“So you’re living, for example, on the border of a county that is on the bad list,” Dhillon said. “The county next to you, right across the border … across the street even, is not on that list. The kid in the house across the street gets to have a quality education in-person and you don’t.”

Marianne Bema, a single mother from Cameroon, Africa who now lives in Los Angeles with her three sons, said she was impressed with the school system when she first moved to the U.S., especially how fluent her sons became in English.

“I saw how my boys have been struggling. I saw me, I am not a professional teacher,” said Bema, who faces a language barrier when trying to help her sons and noticed they have trouble focusing during online classes. She also does not have an internet connection reliable enough to support online-only classes.

Another parent in the lawsuit, Christine Ruiz, has two sons diagnosed with autism who attend public school. Her 15-year-old son has not received any of the services he is entitled to from his Individual Education Program, such as individualized attention, since schools closed in March, she said.

Jesse Petrilla has two sons including a six-year-old, who has suffered from a “significant decline in engagement and motivation and just an overall enthusiasm for learning,” his father said.

“My wife and I really worry about long-term effects that this is going to have on him psychologically if the schools remain closed,” Petrilla said, adding that they are “very lucky that she can stay home with him, but many parents don’t have that choice.”

“I believe parents should have the choice to send their children to school or not, teachers should have the choice to teach or not, and districts should have the choice to open or not if the data supports it,” he said.

The case is scheduled to be heard Monday by Judge Stephen Wilson of the Central District Court of California.

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