SACRAMENTO — The Los Angeles Unified school board voted Tuesday to authorize the district to sue California over Gov. Gavin Newsom's new school reopening plan, escalating tension between the country's second largest school district and the governor.
Following a closed session on Tuesday, the school board announced that it had unanimously "authorized the initiation of litigation against the State of California, state entities and public officials related to California's Safe Schools for All framework."
The Democratic governor has come under intense pressure to reopen schools in California as most of the state's 6 million public school students have been out of classrooms since the pandemic forced closures nearly a year ago. But school districts and labor unions have tremendous power over local decisions, and Newsom has said he will not force them to open. He is instead offering $2 billion to pay for additional staff, testing and other expenditures as an incentive for districts to reopen the youngest grades as soon as Feb. 16.
California lawmakers seemed skeptical Monday during their first budget hearing that school districts could — or should — move as quickly as Newsom has asked. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office also said in its review of Newsom's budget that the governor's timeline is "likely unfeasible." But Newsom's Department of Finance responded in the hearing that a fast timeline is necessary to salvage a meaningful part of the remaining school year.
The district has not sued yet, and a spokesperson for LAUSD later Tuesday tried to downplay the vote by saying the district would pursue legal action "if necessary." Documents related to the litigation will be available if the district moves forward with the lawsuit, according to board officials. The board on Tuesday also authorized litigation to recoup funds the district has spent providing meals to the community during pandemic-related school closures.
Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner has criticized Newsom's $2 billion plan to get the state's elementary schools reopened by next month. On Monday, Beutner, who oversees California's largest district, joined unions in demanding state standards and more funding for all schools regardless of whether they reopen classrooms.
Under Newsom's plan, only schools willing to reopen classrooms are eligible to receive that extra funding. Superintendents of California's largest districts have joined Beutner in saying they will not apply for that funding and will instead forge ahead with their own plans once the state's record-high Covid-19 case rates decline.
Fresno Unified, Long Beach Unified, San Bernardino City Unified and Sacramento City Unified told POLITICO on Tuesday that they are either not ready to commit to the funding or are unable to qualify due to high coronavirus rates.
Tuesday's LAUSD lawsuit announcement throws more water on Newsom's plan, which has been touted as a way to encourage schools to open without forcing them to do so. While other states have welcomed students back in some capacity, most of California's schools have remained closed for 10 months.
Newsom's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The school reopening debate in the last two months has come against the backdrop of a record Covid-19 case surge across most of California, and the governor's plan would not allow schools to open without waivers until case rates decline significantly from where they have been.
But trends may be improving. The state on Tuesday removed the Sacramento region from stay-at-home orders after projecting that intensive care unit hospitalizations are declining at a sufficient rate.