Freedom Foundation
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First-Of-Its-Kind Personal Injury Lawsuit Alleges UTLA Harming Students by Keeping Schools Closed

(LOS ANGELES) — The Los Angeles Unified School District and the union representing its 30,000 teachers both cite concern for the safety of the district’s 600,000 students among the principal reasons the nation’s second-largest school district still has not yet re-opened for in-school learning.

But according to a lawsuit filed on March 30 by a collection of local parents, the current arrangement is inflicting far greater damage to their children’s health than the risk of catching COVID-19 if and when the schools re-open.

The suit, which names the Los Angeles Unified School District, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and its president, Cecily-Myart Cruz, as defendants, was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by four sets of parents represented by the Freedom Foundation, a national public policy watchdog organization specializing in government union abuses.

The plaintiffs allege their children have “variously become suicidal, isolated, depressed, addicted, obese and had their future prosperity needlessly imperiled,” because of the prolonged absence from the classroom.

The complaint continues, “While the need to shut down schools was unclear in March 2020, the scientific consensus is now clear: Schools can and should safely re-open. Keeping schools closed not only harms children’s academic performance, but has also been shown to cause ongoing and, in some cases, devastating harm to their social, mental and emotional well-being.”

Earlier this month — almost exactly a year after schools were first ordered closed — California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $6.6 billion plan approved by the California Legislature on March 4 to facilitate school re-opening. But the measure stopped short of mandating that schools across California must re-open.

Instead, it leaves the final decision to local education officials and, in some areas, subject to agreements between districts and the unions representing school employees.

In Los Angeles, the lawsuit contends, UTLA is using the impasse to push not only for concessions from the school district it has been unable to earn at the bargaining table, but the union is also exploiting COVID fears to advance a polarizing political agenda that has nothing whatever to do with wages, benefits or workplace concerns.

Last July, for example, UTLA floated a list of demands that must be met before the teachers would return to the classroom. These included:

  • defunding law enforcement;
  • creation of a single-payer healthcare system;
  • full funding for California’s homeless population;
  • a new set of programs to address the state’s “systemic racism” problem;
  • elimination of publicly funded, privately operated charter schools; and, of course;
  • a sweeping array of new taxes on the state’s wealthy to pay for it all.

“It’s bad enough UTLA is demanding changes to its collective bargaining agreement in mid-contract without even bothering to call a strike that might result in the teachers actually doing without a paycheck,” said Shella Sadovnik, a litigation attorney for the Freedom Foundation. “But it’s also demanding without benefit of an election political changes not even the most liberal state in the nation has seen fit to approve.”

The lawsuit points to a number of respected scientific analyses — including a report issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control — that conclude schools can, and should be, re-opened safely for in-person learning immediately assuming certain commonsense precautions are taken. In addition, it lists a number of concerns, such as depression, obesity, suicide risk and socialization difficulties that are already plaguing youngsters forced into on-line learning programs.

“We haven’t even addressed the fact that the kids aren’t actually learning anything,” declared Timothy Snowball, another Freedom Foundation attorney representing the parents. “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.”

This particular Freedom Foundation suit, he said, is mainly concerned with the physical and psychological damage.

“UTLA and its president, with only token opposition from the school district, are using COVID to hold 600,000 students and their parents hostage,” concluded Sadovnik. “They have a legal and moral obligation to act in the best interests of these young people. 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.”