Earlier in the week, a group of seven Los Angeles and Alameda County families sued the California Board of Education, the Department of Education, and state Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Thurmond over accusations of not giving students in the state adequate education due to the long-term remote learning measures taken by schools in California since March.
According to the lawsuit, remote learning has put an undue burden on parents and guardians, especially on low-income families who have poor internet service or don’t have a reliable computer to use. The lawsuit also charges that parents have had to take up the slack from the schools shortfalls, acting as educators for their children and having to pay for all of the associated extra costs usually provided by schools. The suit argued further that these shortfalls had effected minority students, in particular black and Hispanic students, the most.
“Because of the State’s inadequate response, parents and grandparents have had to become tutors, counselors, childminders, and computer technicians, and they have had to find a way to pay for what are now basic school supplies — laptop/tablets, paper, printing, and internet access,” noted the lawsuit that was filed Monday. “California has offered families no training, support, or opportunity to provide input into plans for remote learning, the eventual return to in-person instruction, or the delivery of compensatory education.
“For many families, a single room is now a multi-grade classroom as well as a workplace for several adults. For students without homes, school is now wherever they can find an internet connection. The change in the delivery of education left many already-underserved students functionally unable to attend school. The State continues to refuse to step up and meet its constitutional obligation to ensure basic educational equality or indeed any education at all.”
The families serving as plaintiffs in the case come largely from virtual learning non-profit groups such as the Los Angeles-based Community Coalition and Oakland-based REACH. They are being represented in the suit by the law firms of Public Counsel, a non-profit, and Morrison & Foerster.
“The impact of the pandemic on California’s most vulnerable students has been to deny them in far too many instances even the semblance of an education, dramatically widening an already indefensible opportunity gap with their more privileged counterparts,” said Public Counsel lawyer Mark Rosenbaum. “Remote learning may not be preventable but the remoteness of California officials to the desperate educational needs of its children is.”
Meanwhile, the defendants, all California state education entities and officials, have said that the measures have been taken in the interest of public health and that, at this time, even more stringent measures to protect students and staff from the spread of COVID-19 is not enough to justify reopening schools, despite most private schools having been reopened this semester in the state.
“Throughout the pandemic this administration has taken important actions to protect student learning while also taking necessary steps to protect public health. We will defend our position in court,” explained Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for Governor Newsom.
A need for better in-person education vs. a public health crisis
Education experts have been largely on school reopenings in California, with many favoring health protections and the reduction of COVID-19 spread, and others being in support or reopenings due to the long-term detrimental effects that remote learning has on the education of children.
“There are a lot of plusses and minuses on each side of the argument,” said Alicia Moreno Lopez, a counselor who helps children transition from public to private or home schooling, to the Globe. “But in the end it comes down to public health or education. Sadly, we can’t have both right now. A lot of educators know that the vaccines are coming and are willing to stick it out, but parents don’t want to start all of this over after winter break. We don’t want to spread COVID, but we also don’t want to hurt the long-term prospects of our children.
“The lawsuit is putting that question out there and throwing in surrounding factors such as economic status, school location, and even the notion that internet should now be treated as an essential service or even a utility. Plus it’s also highlighting all the services schools provide, like free lunches, that parents are now stuck with. Teachers, teacher unions, school officials, students, parents, parent’s groups, and taxpayers are all saying different things here, but it all really comes down to public health or education. There have been lawsuits earlier than this one, and if the pandemic continues long into next year, you can bet we’ll have more too.”
As the lawsuit specifically asked for a jury trial, a court date is expected sometime early next year in the Superior Court of Alameda.