Two Ventura, Los Angeles County families join lawsuit to Reopen California Schools for in-person instruction (Part 1)

By Michael Hernandez

LOS ANGELES—Two Ventura, Los Angeles County families are included in a lawsuit to Reopen California Schools brought against Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, State Public Health Officer Sonia Angell and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond by the San Francisco law firm of Harmeet K. Dhillon and the San Jose law firm of Eimer Stahl on July 29 (Case No. 2:20-cv-06472).

The local plaintiffs are John Ziegler, a resident of Camarillo, and father of an eight-year-old girl enrolled in a public school; as well as plaintiff Roger Hackett, who has a middle school son attending a private middle school in Westlake Village.  They are two of the 14 California plaintiffs in the lawsuit now in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in the First Street Courtroom 10A (Los Angeles) with Judge Stephen V. Wilson presiding.

The purpose of the declarations “is to explain the detrimental impact school closures has had and the financial hardship imposed.” An original declaration in this case was submitted by John Ziegler on July 30 with an updated declaration submitted on Aug. 25:

“My daughter is enrolled in Los Primeros School of Sciences and Arts and is dreading attending day camp because of frustrations surrounding the difficulty of using the computer software,” writes Ziegler. “The process to log into the online classes is extremely difficult for even me to understand, let alone my daughter in second-grade. She is frustrated and repeatedly gets upset just trying to ‘attend’ the virtual classes.

“At-home distance learning creates an additional burden on my family and the means by which I will be able to work given that my daughter is not old enough to stay home alone throughout the day.”

According to the July 28 declaration submitted by Roger Hackett: “I am a parent of a soon-to-be sixth grader hat attends a private school. I have reviewed Gov. Newsom’s July 17 framework and have concerns that it unfairly lumps all schools together, countywide, when determining risk rates and school closures.

“For example, under Newsom’s orders, a school in a lesser populated area of Los Angeles County is treated the same as a school in a very densely populated area, like downtown Los Angeles. So, even though my son’s school is in Westlake Village (very few COVID-19 positive cases), we are treated the same as Los Angeles County as a whole and Los Angeles City, in particular.

“Also, the orders don’t take into account each individual school when determining school closures, which is unfair since some schools, like my son’s school, are going above and beyond, making huge investments of effort and money to comply with the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and health directives, so that the children can safely attend school in-person—which is something that students, parents, and teachers at my son’s school desire. I also think it is unfair that the waiver process allows for elementary schools to apply for a waiver, but not a high school for example.”

“Gov. Newsom’s order also interferes with my right to parent my child and determine how best he should be educated. My son would best benefit from in-person instruction. This is best for his emotional health and also best education-wise.”

The lawsuit to Reopen California schools has 12 more plaintiffs:

  • Matthew Brach (Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District board member) father of a 16-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter;
  • Jesse Petrilla (Mission Viejo) father of 1st grade son;
  • Lacee Beaulieu (La Jolla) mother of a ninth grader daughter at a private school and of a fifth-grade son in San Diego Unified School District;
  • Erica Sehton (Murrieta) mother of a kindergarten daughter at a Catholic school in Temecula;
  • Kenneth Fleming (Long Beach) father of a daughter, who is a high school senior;
  • Alison Walsh (San Juan Capistrano) mother of two children enrolled in private school;
  • Christine Ruiz (Los Angeles County) mother of a 15-year-old son in high school with autism and another middle school son in middle school special education;
  • Marianne Bema (Los Angeles County) originally from Cameroon, Africa (single mother of three school aged sons);
  • Ashley Ramirez (mother of three sons) with oldest son with an Individualized Education Plan;
  • Tiffany MItrowke (San Diego) single mother of a seven-year-old boy who attends public school;
  • Adebukola Onibokum (Santa Clara County) a neurosurgeon with two young children who attend private parochial school;
  • Brian Hawkins (San Jacinto) an African-American pastor with a son with an Individualized Education Plan and a daughter who has been depressed and suicidal as a result of COVID-19.

Already, the attorneys in the lawsuit have filed 35 declarations from plaintiffs and expert witnesses with additional declarations expected prior to Sept. 15. These declarations will be followed by 10 days for the defendants (Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, CA Public Health Officer Sonia Angell, and CA Supt of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond) to file their responses.

California has 5.9 million K-12 students. While California schools are closed for in-person instruction there are 33,348 child care facilities open (8,433 Child Care centers and 24,915 licensed Family Child Care Homes).

The United States Department of Education spent approximately $8.3 billion in California K-12 schools (2019-20) with that amount increased for 2020-21.

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics COVID-19 report states: “Keeping schools closed ‘places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases mortality.’ The Pediatrics’ guidance concluded that everyone ‘should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.’ “Fully open” and “fully operational” means that students need a full school year or more. “Ultimately, it’s not a matter of ‘if school should reopen, it’s simply a matter of ‘how.’ They must fully open and they must be fully operational.”

(Editor’s Note: This is the first story of a series of Citizens Journal stories on Reopen California Schools for in-person instruction.)

 

Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].


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