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Orange County’s Board of Education efforts to sue Gov. Gavin Newsom’s over in person instruction was denied by the state supreme court less than two weeks before classrooms are expected to open up again in the county.

Some parents, teachers and educators in the county want to go back.

They are worried about the physical and mental health concerns of children stuck at home, and have raised concerns that online learning would have long term detrimental effects to their children’s education.

Others are concerned that reopening of schools will lead to another spike in Coronavirus causing another shutdown and more deaths.

A majority of the Orange County Board of Education along with a charter school and a few parents decided to sue Newsom to let schools in high-risk California counties reopen for the 2020-21 school year in the summer. They went directly to the state’s highest court arguing what the governor did was unconstitutional.

“In enacting these new restrictions, he has sacrificed the well-being of children, and children’s important fundamental interest in receiving equal access to meaningful education. Governor Newsom’s arbitrary restrictions on in-person schooling deprives millions of children across California of the opportunity for meaningful education solely based on their county of residence,” reads the petition.

Then the court ordered Newsom to respond to the petition. Newsom’s response argued that the order is in his constitutional right through the Governor’s emergency power in response to the pandemic.

The California Supreme Court has not made comments as to how their decision was made to deny the petition and the Governor’s office has not responded to a request for comment from the Voice of OC.

“Other than the action itself to deny review there isn’t anything else to add,” Cathal Conneely, a spokesperson for the court, told the Voice of OC in an email. “A decision is made at the court’s weekly petition conference—at which hundreds petitions are usually considered. The justices review a summary of the case facts and an outline of the issues a case presents—the justices then vote to determine whether the case presents sufficiently important issues for review.”

Orange County’s education leaders have spent over $2 million in taxpayer dollars on lawsuits against each other in the last two years, and are set to spend nearly another $2 million more this year. 

The board is being represented by the law firm Tyler & Bursch at no cost to the taxpayer according to the board as well as the law firm who said in a statement that they took the school reopening case Pro Bono. 

“The Court’s denial of our petition for review is disappointing and while we have not yet exactly decided our next move, be assured we are prepared to continue fighting for the rights of the vulnerable children of California,” Attorney Jennifer Bursch said in a statement about the court’s decision.

The decision to sue came after Newsom announced that counties on a state watchlist could not have students in classrooms until off that list for two weeks. The county came off the watchlist in August but then Newsom introduced a new tiering system for reopening plans that prolonged when schools could resume in person instruction with limitations.

Over a 100 elementary schools have already resumed in person instruction with a waiver process through the county and state.

The Orange County Board of Education ignited a furious debate on school reopenings in Orange County over the summer when they recommended that schools reopen without social distancing mandates. These recommendations cause over 4,000 people to email the board to share their thoughts on a reopening.

A majority of those emails were against the recommendations.

School districts are expected to get the greenlight to resume in person instruction with some restrictions on Sept. 22 but students will still be allowed to continue with online learning if they prefer.

Noah Biesiada Contributed to the reporting in this Article.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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