On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court rejected lawsuits by the Orange County Board of Education and a coalition of private schools to overturn Governor Gavin Newsom’s emergency order to limit in-school learning.
California Supreme Court Rejects two lawsuits
The ruling ended nearly a two month battle between schools and the state. The OC Board of Education had first filed in late July in response to Governor Newsom making school re-openings directly tied to where the county was in the process of reopening. As county re-openings were based on different COVID-19 factors, the state essentially made the decisions for all school districts across the state.
Despite teachers largely approving of the new re-opening rules, as well as other new standards such as mandatory face masks, Orange County’s legal action gained traction, with many parents supportive of the Board’s decision. They saw the Governor’s action as illegal and going against the county’s wishes.
Board President Dr. Ken Williams elaborated in a separate statement about the Board’s decision.
“We understand the Governor believes this is a difficult decision,” explained Board President Dr. Ken Williams in July. “But we reviewed the data and came to the logical conclusion that our schools can reopen with risk-mitigating efforts and safeguards provided by the state and local public-health agencies.”
“We believe that the benefits of reopening schools outweigh the potential harm of children not being in the classroom.”
Proponents of the lawsuit then saw a victory late last month when the Supreme Court ordered Governor Newsom to respond to the lawsuits that were attempted to reverse his in-person schooling decision. However, that was short-lived as the Court ruled against them Wednesday.
Supporters and opponents weigh in on lawsuit rejection
Lawsuit supporters were disheartened by the news.
“I am sorry that the state Supreme Court did not view that Governor Newsom has abused his emergency powers that are given to governors under a real healthcare crisis,” said Board President Williams on Wednesday. “Our families and children are suffering from not going to school.”
Defenders of Newsom’s order reacted positively to the decision, noting that the safety of children in schools and the reduction of COVID-19 spread should remain top priorities.
“Morally this is a good decision as we don’t have to risk our children or education workers in getting and spreading COVID-19,” explained education expert and polling advisor Dorothy Johnson-Hoffman to the Globe. “And legally lawmakers like the Governor do have emergency powers to do what they can to fight COVID-19.
“The majority of Californians want either closed or remote learning. Throw in hybrid models and that figure jumps up by 34%. That 10% approving of in-person only hasn’t changed in months. Most people are agreeing with the Governor.”
Rejection isn’t the end of the legal battle
However, the legal fight isn’t over just yet.
“It simply means that we will have to start the litigation by filing our claims in the Superior Courts because the court is not willing to permit this case to skip the lower courts,” noted case lawyer Robert Taylor. “Once we proceed through the normal process, we believe we will still be victorious in the end.”
Many supporters also still believe that the Governor’s actions are not legal, citing the complaint’s main argument of “Governor Newsom’s defiance of the rule of law and disregard for the constitution usurped Private Schools’ contractual rights and detrimentally effected the learning of students across the State of California in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.”
The lawyers for the school district and private schools are currently weighing their options, including possibly dropping the lawsuit due to Orange County moving down a tier in the state’s new COVID-19 reopening system, and having Orange County schools now being allowed to begin reopening starting September 22nd.
However, as of Thursday, many close to the case think that it’s most likely that the OC Board and the private schools will start the lawsuit up again in lower courts.