In Lawsuit Over Distance Learning, Parents Accuse San Diego Schools of Violating Constitution

Five of San Diego County’s largest school districts and one charter school were sued last week by parents who say the schools failed to provide adequate instruction to their children during distance learning two years ago in what they allege was a violation of their constitutional rights.

Twenty parents and guardians filed the federal lawsuit against San Diego Unified, Sweetwater Union High, Chula Vista Elementary, Grossmont Union High, La Mesa-Spring Valley and the Helix High charter school in La Mesa. Those schools altogether enroll 184,400 students, almost 40 percent of the county’s public school students.

The lawsuit is one of several that California parents have previously filed against state and school district officials over distance learning since the pandemic began.

The defendant school districts and Helix High declined to comment on the pending litigation. Some said they are still reviewing the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, the parents say the schools failed to provide the minimum number of hours of instruction and components of distance learning required by state law during the 2020-21 school year, when schools were closed for months at a time due to COVID-19. For example, some parents said their children sometimes went whole school days without a check-in or instruction from their teacher.

“During the COVID-19 related school closures, children were too often ignored by the public schools that were required to educate them,” said Marc Levine, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing the parent plaintiffs, in an email. “We are hopeful that, as a result of this action, these children will be given an opportunity to reverse the excessive learning loss they have experienced.”

State law required schools to provide three to four hours of instruction each school day during distance learning, depending on the student’s grade level. Those three to four hours of daily online instruction did not have to consist entirely of live instruction; instead, those hours were to be based on the time value of assignments given.

For distance learning, schools had to provide students with computers, adequate internet connectivity, academic content that was on par with what they would have received during in-person learning, special education services if needed, and daily live interaction with teachers, which could involve online or telephone communication.

The lawsuit also accuses the districts and Helix of violating state law by offering only distance learning to the vast majority of their students for much of the 2020-2021 school year. The plaintiffs point to a state law that said schools and districts “shall offer in-person instruction, and may offer distance learning.”

The plaintiffs allege that the defendant schools failed to provide sufficient distance learning and violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

During the 2020-2021 year, many schools and districts were at times blocked from reopening for general in-person learning by state public health officials.

Schools and districts were allowed to provide small-group, in-person instruction to certain students. But many were barred from reopening to general in-person learning until COVID-19 levels declined in their areas if they had not reopened for in-person learning during the fall of 2020.

Some districts, including San Diego Unified, Chula Vista Elementary, Sweetwater Union High and La Mesa-Spring Valley, chose to delay reopening for weeks after the state allowed them to reopen, citing continuing COVID-19 health risks.

Parents across California have filed multiple similar lawsuits arguing that public schools provided low-quality education during distance learning.

One of the most publicized lawsuits filed against Gov. Gavin Newsom in July 2020 argued that the forced school closures and distance learning violated their children’s due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment.

An appeals court sided last year with a lower court that rejected those claims for public school parents and had ruled that the 14th Amendment does not recognize a fundamental right to a public education.

Click here to read the full article at the San Diego Union Tribune

OC’s Davies Proposes ‘Parents Bill Of Rights’ In Assembly

California legislators will soon be taking up two bills related to school vaccinations and other education matters.

One bill, introduced by an Orange County Republican, would create a “California Parents Bill of Rights” that supporters say will give parents more control over their children’s education. Another, introduced by a San Diego Democrat, would allow school administrators easier access to student COVID-19 vaccination records.

Assemblymember Laurie Davies, R-Laguna Niguel, held a news conference Monday to talk about her “Parents Bill of Rights,” which refers to parents having “the right to make health care decisions” and a greater voice on where their children go to school and what they’re taught.

“It is the right of every parent to make decisions they deem best to protect the health and welfare of their children, not Sacramento politicians,” said Davies, pledging to continue to oppose vaccine and face mask mandates.

Davies likely is in for a fight given that Democrats have a supermajority in Sacramento and it’s tough for Republicans to get bills passed unless they gain bipartisan support.

Davies’ bill, AB 1785, reiterates existing laws and rights that parents already have but also stipulates what schools would need to do to keep parents involved and informed about those rights. The proposed legislation, for example, would require a school or district to post information on its website regarding various topics, such as immunization requirements, how to inspect instructional materials and curriculum and how to opt out of sex education. The bill also proposes that schools would need to provide an annual newsletter “about the nature and purpose of clubs and activities offered” on campus.

Mari Barke, president of the Orange County Board of Education, was on hand Monday to praise Davies’ bill and talk about parental choices.  Barke noted that the county board is tasked with considering appeals from students who want to transfer from one district to another but are denied that move from their home districts. The board, run by a conservative majority that favors charter schools, also considers charter school petition appeals after they are denied by their home school districts.

“We do try to honor school choice and parental choice through our overturning of charter school appeals and inter-district transfers,” Barke said. “We don’t feel any child should be constrained by their ZIP code, and we know that parents always make the best decisions for their children, not the districts.”

The Orange County Board of Education has a lawsuit pending against Gov. Gavin Newsom on what board members say is his overreach and abuse of emergency executive powers that have led to pandemic-related mandates.

On Friday, Feb. 4, the same day that Davies introduced AB 1785, Assemblymember Akilah Weber, D-San Diego, introduced AB 1797, which would make it easier for school officials to access and verify students’ COVID-19 vaccine status.

The bill would update the existing California Immunization Registry, which is described as a secure, confidential database managed by the California Department of Public Health. (Currently, school district officials do not have access to verify students’ COVID-19 status.) The bill would also require doctors to report COVID data to the registry and collect race and ethnicity data as well.

Click here to read the full article at OC Register

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