LOS ANGELES - Friday, as the debate rages over reopening California’s schools, Governor Gavin Newsom announced new guidelines that would require some three-quarters of the state’s students to continue online-only learning in the fall.
Under the new order, schools can reopen for in-person learning only once the county it is operating in has been off the state’s monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.
As it stands, with more than 365,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in California, 32 of the state’s 58 counties are currently on the monitoring list, including Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange counties.
In an interview shortly after Newsom’s announcement, attorney Harmeet Dhillon told FOX 11’s Elex Michaelson that she is planning to sue Newsom over what she called an "onerous order."
“Yet again he has gone too far, and this time this issue affects not just the kids, but their parents, and their parents who have jobs, and all the workplaces that are impacted,” Dhillon said. “This is actually a catastrophe for California, and we are intending to challenge it legally.”
As a practical matter, Dhillon called the order arbitrary, saying that a system that depends on a rolling 14-day average of cases, or in which kids could simply be yanked from school, wouldn’t work.
This, as the order mandates that once in-person learning resumes, a classroom must go home following a confirmed case, a school must close if more than 5% of the school tests positive, and a district must close for in-person learning if 25% of the schools are closed within a 14-day period.
Dhillon’s concerns do not stop at the practical level though, there is also the legal argument.
“The California Constitution has a constitutional guarantee for a basic education for all children,” Dhillon said, citing a number of conversations with teachers who say the experience with online learning has been a “disaster,” especially when it comes to students who need extra help, or those who have been unable to participate in virtual learning due to lack of access.
Also of concern for Dhillon are equal protection rights of students who may hail from different parts of the state, as well as the burden placed on taxpayers by keeping schools closed.
“Guess what, the taxpayers are not getting a rebate back,” Dhillon said, as some 80% of K-12 education funding in CA comes from the state and property taxes. “So when you have government monies being levied for particular government purposes, like education, but the government’s not spending it on that, they’re not spending it effectively, that’s a taxpayer standing issue regarding the right of the taxpayer to have what they pay the money for actually used for that purpose.”
Given her arguments for re-opening in-person learning, Michaelson pressed Dhillon on how to balance the legal issues with those of safety for students, teachers, and others.
“We are a country that put the man on the moon,” Dhillon responded, saying there are creative ways to ensure social distancing in the classroom and that individuals are protected, especially vulnerable teachers, since those under 17-years-old have proven at low risk of infection.
One solution Dhillon proposed was to have students return to class, vulnerable teachers appearing via a monitor, a teacher’s aide in the classroom to assist with any in-class needs.
Ultimately, Dhillon said while there is a way to bring students back to school, there is little will to do so, alleging the CA education system has always been flawed, and that those in charge would rather use the nearly $100B education budget for other purposes.
"They need to do better, and we deserve more."
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