Orange County school board to sue over K-12 mask mandate

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California school board announced plans to sue Gov. Gavin Newsom over a state mandate requiring K-12 students to wear masks in classrooms, saying face coverings are harmful to children and the governor is abusing his power.

The Orange County Board of Education, which last year unsuccessfully sued Newsom to reopen classrooms, voted 4-0 in a closed session Tuesday in favor of filing a lawsuit against the Democratic governor, The Orange County Register reported.

A statement read aloud by the board’s counsel said that Newsom has abused his authority by continuing to issue coronavirus health edicts under a state of emergency and that the latest school mask rule is a burden that “compounds the harm to California’s children previously caused by prior school closures and unwarranted masking requirements.”

The board did not present any data as evidence of adverse effects of masking on children or acknowledge public health studies that have shown masking reduces the spread of the virus.

The board does not have the authority to implement rules over the county’s 27 school districts.

Last month, state health officials announced that all teachers and students will be required to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, when classrooms reopen for the fall term.

The rules differed from the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time, which said fully vaccinated people didn’t have to wear masks indoors. The CDC has since reversed course, saying fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors again in places with high COVID-19 transmission rates.

The federal agency also said last month that students and staff should stay at least 3 feet (1 meter) apart to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

State officials say they worried that imposing physical distancing rules would make it harder for some schools to accommodate all students. So they dropped the distancing requirement and required masks for everyone; a tradeoff they say will enable all students to return to in-person classes.

In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases have surged in Orange County and statewide due to the highly contagious delta variant.

On Monday, Orange County reported an average of 626 new COVID-19 cases a day for the previous seven days, up from 72 new cases a day reported on July 2.

Last August, the same school board sued Newsom to reopen schools that had been closed due to COVID-19. A petition went to the state Supreme Court asking it to review the case, but was ultimately denied.

Last month, two parent groups — Let Them Breathe and Reopen California Schools — filed a lawsuit against Newsom and state public health officials seeking to end the school mask mandate.

The mask mandate and Newsom’s handling of the pandemic are among the politically charged issues Republicans have seized on to fuel a recall campaign against the Democratic governor.