California Gov. Gavin Newsom is forcing millions of students to stay home this fall. A group of impacted parents joined a call with reporters on Thursday to explain why it's imperative they get their children back to the classroom and why they're suing the governor in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
Plaintiff Marianne Bema, a children's book author who lives in Los Angeles with her two boys, says that keeping them home is becoming untenable. Sometimes she finds them not attending their Zoom classes, or she finds the computers are not working, or that the school internet was hacked. She insisted that she's "not a professional teacher" and she cannot teach 6th or 10th grade mathematics.
She joined the lawsuit to make the parents' "voices heard" and to ask the governor to give them "the choice" if they are going to go for homeschooling or not.
Plaintiff Christine Ruiz says it's the same struggle in her household. Her children, she said, "have gotten no education whatsoever." They are struggling, she insisted. And special needs families are "being devastated."
Plaintiff Jesse Petrilla says he and his wife have noticed a decline in motivation and overall enthusiasm in learning among their kids. This is such a critical age, he said. This is no time to mess with their education. He made one other observation that hasn't been as much in the spotlight. Distance learning has resulted in a higher rate of child abuse. When kids show up to school, "teachers can see bruises and ask the child what's going on," Petrilla noted. But if they are forced to stay home, there is no opportunity for teachers to notice these things.
Plaintiff Matthew Brach is a father of two teenagers - a daughter who he said is struggling emotionally, and a son who "has become more withdrawn and detached from school." As a member of his local school board, he knows more than most that K-12 is "the only time in life you're guaranteed an education."
"And we have to do it right," he said. "This is his last chance to be a senior."
Brach tried to assuage concerns that schools just aren't prepared to reopen during a pandemic. He explained that his district has been meeting routinely with a committee of 45 medical professionals in preparation. They have also worked all summer building Plexiglass screens and obtaining PPE. And he noted that 75 percent of their parents decided on the hybrid option, which includes some classroom learning. Eighty-eight percent of teachers want to return.
The parents' attorney, Harmeet Dhillon, the founder and CEO of The Center For American Liberty, agreed that the COVID-19 risk to both kids and teachers is "infinitesimal." She argued that Gov. Newsom needs to let local parents and school boards make these decisions themselves instead of imposing "a one size fits all template" for the state.
"In order to avoid a permanent scar on these families, we're going to court," she said.
So far, she noted, the state has had no response to the "reams of scientific data" they've provided. As for the mental health struggles among children that are skyrocketing in quarantine, state officials said the risks to children "can be fixed with counseling."
"They took the angle that education is not a fundamental right," Dhillon regretted.
The hearing on the temporary restraining order on Newsom's mandate is set for this Monday.