(The Center Square) – The Orange County Board of Education sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom formally requesting that he end the state of emergency he declared nearly a year and a half ago. The letter follows a petition the board filed last month with the California Supreme Court.
Ending the state of emergency is a legally required action, the board argues, mandated by the California Emergency Services Act. The act requires a governor to end a state of emergency at the earliest moment conditions warrant. That time, the board argues, is long overdue.
The board says it remains committed to the rule of law and to protecting its students, but if the governor refuses to comply with the Emergency Services Act and insists on retaining emergency powers indefinitely, especially when the state of emergency is over, the board says it will file suit in Superior Court.
On March 4, 2020, Newsom declared a state of emergency in California under the Emergency Service Act. On March 22, 2020, he requested the federal government to declare a major disaster in California in order for it to receive federal funds. Also in March last year, Newsom issued a stay-at-home order and designated businesses as either essential or nonessential in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Businesses deemed nonessential were forced to close to in-person service. Newsom also imposed mask mandates and shut down houses of worship. Months later, he implemented a color-coded “Blueprint” for reopening, which placed business and activities into tiers of restrictions, prompting numerous lawsuits to be filed.
By June 15, 2021, Newsom said he would lift the emergency restrictions, including physical distancing requirements, capacity limitations and the county-by-county tier system, while also saying he would not end the statewide emergency declaration. Mask mandates have fluctuated depending on counties, and Newsom oversaw a state lottery campaign encouraging Californians to receive COVID-19 vaccines in exchange for money or gifts.
As the state began to reopen, it reported having among the highest unemployment levels in the nation, crime continued to skyrocket, and many businesses that had closed last year never reopened. During the state shutdown in 2020, California for the first time reported a population loss. And a movement to recall the governor began, citing his handling of the shutdown, the closing of the economy, public schools, businesses and houses of worship as reason to oust him. The recall election is Tuesday.
While the coronavirus should still be taken seriously, the board said, “the emergency suspension of normal government functioning can no longer be justified.”
Signed by Board President Mari Barke, the letter states, “as children return to classrooms across California, it is becoming increasingly clear that Covid-19 cannot be eradicated. We will have to live with it, as we live with other viruses. It is also clear that the state of emergency that existed last March no longer exists. And it cannot last forever.”
Continuing to extend the state of emergency long after the governor has admitted emergency conditions are over, the board argues, Newsom continues to issue statewide rules instead of going through the legislative or public administrative process. Newsom has said 90% of the emergency orders will be eliminated by the end of September, the board notes, adding that his attorneys “have told judges across the state that the Covid emergency is over and that statewide restrictions on movement will not return.”
One of the rules the board opposes is a statewide mask mandate Newsom issued for students receiving in-person instruction. The board argues that requiring children to wear masks indefinitely negatively affects their emotional and educational well-being.
“To address this unconstitutional arrogation and exercise of authority in violation of separation of powers and the representative nature of our governmental system,” the board and other parties filed a petition with the California Supreme Court requesting it to mandate the governor to comply with the law. On August 18, the court declined.
In an effort to avoid further litigation, the board sent a letter to the governor asking him to end to the state of emergency by Sept. 13. It says it hopes Newsom “will do the right thing and return California to a normal state of governance.” But if he doesn’t, it argues, it will pursue the matter in court.
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.