Santa Ana High School in Orange County. Image from the school’s Facebook page

The Orange County Board of Education announced Wednesday it has decided to file a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Public Health Officer in an effort to open public schools for in-person classes.

The 4-0 vote came during a closed session Tuesday night, according to a statement, and was immediately criticized by Orange County Superintendent Al Mijares.

The board’s lawyers said in a statement that the state Constitution gives California school children a right to substantially equal opportunities for learning, and the governor’s order — issued to prevent further spread of the coronavirus — will unequally burden the most underprivileged families of California.

The attorneys, Tyler & Bursch of Murrieta in Riverside County, said they agreed to represent the board pro bono “to protect the vulnerable children in California.”

The lawsuit will also be supported by the nonprofit legal organization, Advocates for Faith & Freedom.

“California children have a constitutional right to both an education and equal protection under the law. The governor denied them these rights and did so without adequately considering the disparate impact these restrictions would have on the disadvantaged,” said attorney Jennifer Bursch. “We brought this lawsuit to protect the single mom and her children, children whose parents do not read or write English, and children with special needs.

“The governor’s ban on in-person learning will cause tens of thousands of kids to fall through the cracks and, in many cases, will be harmed for life.”

Orange County Superintendent Al Mijares criticized the move as “ideologicial” and not in the interest of students.

“On the heels of recommending students return to school without face coverings or social distancing, a majority of the five-member OC Board of Education has decided to file a lawsuit against the state public health officer and Gov. Gavin Newsom over California’s school reopening plans,” Mijares said. “I am disappointed by this latest legal action, but not surprised. This lawsuit continues the pattern of a highly litigious board majority that seems to have no qualms about diverting time, energy and financial resources from students and programs to satisfy their own ideological interests.”

Mijares said local school boards and superintendents will “continue to approve and implement their own plans based on the guidance of state and local public health agencies and needs of their communities.”

He said the county’s Department of Education “is working to support them every step of the way, and I am optimistic that we can unite as a county to return our students to safe and equitable learning environments.”

The Orange County Board of Education earlier this month approved a non-binding recommendation for reopening schools that would not require physical distancing or wearing masks. One of the county’s largest districts, Santa Ana Unified, almost immediately rejected that advice, as did other school officials.

“The board majority’s recommendations are not binding and La Habra City School District will not open our schools under these conditions,” said that district’s superintendent, Joanne Culverhouse. “The health and safety of our staff and students will guide the decisions we make for reopening our schools.”

— From Staff and Wire Reports

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