A small group of parents are taking on the Los Angeles school system and demanding that the schools open their doors.
Four sets of parents filed a personal injury lawsuit this week against the Los Angeles Unified School District, the United Teachers of Los Angeles and UTLA President Cecily–Myart Cruz.
The suit argues the schools have remained closed unnecessarily and that the closure has harmed their children.
“Since Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools closed more than a year ago due to concerns over the then unknown COVID-19, plaintiffs’ children have variously become suicidal, isolated, depressed, addicted, clinically obese, and had their future prosperity needlessly imperiled,” the lawsuit reads.
“While the need to shutdown schools was unclear in March 2020, the scientific consensus is now indisputable: schools can and should safely reopen,” it continues.
The plaintiffs seek the amount equal to per-pupil spending in Los Angeles — $15,920 — “to be used to satisfy tuition at an institution that does provide in-person learning.” They also seek compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees, to be determined at trial.
UTLA has pushed hard to keep schools closed, even as other districts open up. Policies vary around the nation depending on school district and the level of COVID-19 cases.
The UTLA has a list of demands for reopening, including that all school employees receive a vaccination.
“As educators, we should be proud that we used our collective voice and power as a union to stand up for our students and their families,” Myart–Cruz said earlier this month.
“In New York City, they returned too early, and schools went through the traumatic effect of patchwork openings and closings,” she added. “In Chicago, educators struggled for months just to ensure access to the vaccine.”
Some schools have used a hybrid model of online and in-person learning to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. So far, LAUSD has remained entirely online.
“UTLA and its president, with only token opposition from the school district, are using COVID to hold 600,000 students and their parents hostage,” said Shella Sadovnik, an attorney with the Freedom Foundation, the legal group representing the parents.
“They have a legal and moral obligation to act in the best interests of these young people,” Sadovnik said. “Instead, they’ve become pawns in an unconscionable game of political chicken, and it’s about time they were held responsible for the long-term consequences of their actions.”
The suit will likely set up a lengthy legal battle. Critics of the school closure policy also point out the difficulty students and educators face with remote learning.
“We haven’t even addressed the fact that the kids aren’t actually learning anything,” said Freedom Foundation attorney Timothy Snowball. “We can’t even comprehend the social and financial devastation California will endure as a result of hundreds of thousands of students taking what amounts to a two-year break from education.”