A group of parents and students protest outside Gilroy High School on April 19, urging the school district to allow secondary students to return to in-person learning. Contributed photo
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An attorney representing a group of Gilroy parents threatened a lawsuit if the Gilroy Unified School District does not offer in-person learning for middle and high school students before the end of the school year on June 4.

In a May 2 letter, which was sent to the GUSD Board of Education and Superintendent Deborah Flores, Lee Andelin of Cardiff-based Aannestad Andelin & Corn presented a list of seven demands from his clients, Advocating for Gilroy Students. Among those are providing “some form” of in-person instruction for secondary students before the end of the 2020-21 school year, and appointing “at least” three independent parents to the district’s Reopening Planning Committee.

“My clients have exhausted all other efforts at attempting to communicate their concerns with GUSD and are therefore prepared to take further legal action if GUSD does not immediately fulfill its duty to provide in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible to all students,” Andelin wrote.

Elementary students of Gilroy Unified School District returned to in-person classes on April 15 and 19, after the Board of Education approved a hybrid plan for the remainder of the school year in March.

Middle and high school students, however, will remain in distance learning, after a majority of the trustees rejected a hybrid plan.

At the March 25 meeting, some trustees were concerned that a hybrid plan would result in reduced instructional time for secondary students. Others questioned the logistics of maintaining stable cohorts, as secondary students have different teachers throughout the day, whereas elementary students stay with one.

The number of new Covid-19 cases in Gilroy have improved in recent months, yet still remain among the highest in the county, according to public health data, which was a concern among some trustees when considering a hybrid plan.

GUSD spokesperson Melanie Corona said the district does not comment on threats of litigation. The district has forwarded the letter to its legal counsel for review.

Andelin points out in the letter that his firm won a temporary injunction against San Diego area school districts in March, where a California Superior Court judge sided with a parent group and ordered the districts to justify why they couldn’t reopen for in-person instruction.

GUSD has a “constitutional obligation” to offer in-person learning, Andelin wrote, as elementary students have the option to return to the classroom, but secondary students do not. He cited the California Constitution, which states “A person may not be … denied equal protection of the laws.”

Further, Andelin wrote, Senate Bill 98 signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in June provides funding to school districts, noting that they “shall offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible.”

“Nothing is preventing GUSD from expanding in-person instruction, and GUSD is legally obligated to do so under the legislative mandate of SB 98 and the equal protection clause of the California Constitution,” he wrote. “If GUSD is not willing to meet these demands, my clients request a substantive response to this correspondence from GUSD or its counsel no later than May 6, 2021.”

In an earlier interview, Flores said it is GUSD’s plan to reopen in the fall, but it also must come up with a backup plan in case Gilroy’s Covid-19 numbers begin to surge again.

At the May 6 board meeting, Flores and district staff will discuss the Reopening Planning Committee’s recommendation that all schools reopen full-time beginning Aug. 18.

The board will meet virtually at 7pm. To view the agenda, visit bit.ly/2SfJrVw.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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