Court hearing set for March as SF moves forward with suit to reopen public schools

As part of a lawsuit the city has filed against both the San Francisco Unified School District and the Board of Education, City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Thursday filed a preliminary injunction to further compel the district and school board to reopen schools.

A court hearing for the matter has been set for March 22, Herrera's office said.

Herrera initially filed the suit last week, alleging the current plan to reopen schools and resume in-person instruction from the school district and school board is inadequate and doesn't meet California guidelines.

Earlier this week, Herrera expanded the lawsuit, further accusing the district of violating student's rights to attend public school under the state's constitution; discriminating against students due to wealth, in violation of the state constitution's equal protection clause; and violating state law by not offering in-person learning "to the greatest extent possible."

Due to COVID-19, the city's public schools have been closed since March 2020 while, by now, most of the city's private and parochial schools have resumed in-person learning.

The district initially planned to reopen schools in phases starting in January, but those plans were put on hold after the district failed to reach a deal with labor unions over safety measures for staff in time.

Then over the weekend, the district and unions announced a tentative agreement.

Although distance learning remains in place, the negative impacts it's having on students and their families is undeniable, according to Herrera.

"Distance learning is not the same thing as school, not even close," Herrera said in a statement on Thursday.

"We know that teachers are doing heroic work every day trying to keep kids engaged and learning. So are overburdened parents. Even with all of those tremendous efforts, almost a year of being isolated from classmates, friends and teachers is taking a terrifying toll on these kids. It must stop. It's time to get back in class. Desperate parents are providing heartbreaking accounts of what is happening to their children. Mental health experts report that kids of all ages are experiencing severe mental health problems: depression, anxiety, self-harming behavior, suicidal thoughts. And yet, public schools in San Francisco remain shut. It's unconscionable, it's unlawful and it must end."

During a school board meeting earlier this week, Superintendent Vincent Matthews said the district is currently working with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to complete site inspections at schools in anticipation of reopening them.

Matthews also said he expected to provide an update on the tentative agreement between the district and the unions at next week's board meeting.

The unions, which represent teachers, as well as custodians, engineers, nutrition service workers, clerks, administrators and technology support workers, among others, have been demanding for things like vaccines for teachers and testing for both teachers and students.