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Judge Rules In Favor Of North County Parents Suing Over School Reopening Rules

San Dieguito Union High School District's main office in Encinitas. Dec. 28, ...

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: San Dieguito Union High School District's main office in Encinitas. Dec. 28, 2020

A judge Monday ruled in favor of a group of North County parents who sued the state to overturn pandemic-related rules they allege have unfairly prevented school districts from reopening for in-person learning.

The temporary restraining order issued by San Diego Superior Court Judge Cynthia Freeland prohibits the state from enforcing the provisions of its January framework for reopening schools, which the plaintiffs allege has interfered with local school districts' reopening plans and includes "arbitrary" restrictions that have impeded in-person instruction from resuming.

Listen to this story by Tania Thorne.

Scott Davison of the Carlsbad Parents Association said parents were in tears after Monday's ruling.

“Sadly we were surprised to see that finally somebody agreed with us and it had to come to the point where we had to ask a judge to make that ruling for us," he said.

Among the guidelines within the framework are provisions that prohibit high schools and middle schools from reopening until counties achieve a COVID-19 case rate of 7 per 100,000 population while outside of the most restrictive purple tier, while elementary schools can reopen at case rates of 25 per 100,000.

The lawsuit also pushes back on requirements that students be spaced four feet apart in the classroom and that they must receive instruction in "stable groups," rather than changing classes and mixing with other groups of students.

Reported by Tania Thorne

Some of the parents involved in the legal case have said their children have either attempted suicide or expressed suicidal thoughts after learning their schools were continuing solely with distance learning. The parents allege that the mental health of their children has suffered amid the isolation and loneliness brought on by school closures. Coupled with the hurdles of navigating remote learning, their education has also floundered, they allege.

Freeland wrote that the state's guidelines have "had and will continue to have a real and appreciable impact on the affected students' fundamental California right to basic educational equality."

While she said the state does have a compelling interest in stemming the spread of COVID-19, she ruled that the January 2021 framework "is selective in its applicability, vague in its terms and arbitrary in its prescriptions."

The parties will reconvene in two weeks for a hearing on a preliminary injunction.

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