SAN FRANCISCO – The city of San Francisco took a dramatic step Wednesday in its effort to get children back into public school classrooms, suing its own school district to try to force open the doors amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit was the first of its kind in California and possibly the country, as school systems come under increasing pressure from parents and politicians to end virtual learning. Teachers unions in many large school districts, including San Francisco, say they won’t go back to classrooms until they are vaccinated.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera, with support from Mayor London Breed, said he sued the San Francisco Unified School District and Board of Education as a last resort to salvage what’s left of the academic year. They say it’s safe to reopen schools and keeping them closed was hurting kids' well-being.
“Not a single San Francisco public school student has set foot in their classroom in 327 days,” Herrera said at a news conference, calling it shameful and unlawful. “More than 54,000 San Francisco schoolchildren are suffering. They are being turned into Zoom-bies by online school. Enough is enough.”
The lawsuit highlights the growing tension and infighting nationwide between politicians who insist it is safe to return to schools with proper safety precautions and teachers who are on the front lines and have not been able to get vaccinated yet.
While the vast majority of California’s public schools have been closed since March, San Francisco schools have been allowed to reopen since September. Herrera noted that nearly 90% of schools in neighboring Marin County, including public schools, have resumed in-person instruction and that 113 private and parochial schools in San Francisco also are open.
The lawsuit says school administrators are violating a state requirement that districts adopt a clear plan “to offer classroom-based instruction whenever possible” during the pandemic. It seeks a court order to require schools to prepare to offer in-person instruction and file a detailed plan, Herrera said.
School administrators called the lawsuit an embarrassment.