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San Francisco sues its own school district to reopen classes

A teacher wearing a protective mask walks around the classroom during a lesson at an elementary school in San Francisco in October 2020.David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

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 the backing of Mayor London Breed, announced he had sued the San Francisco Board of Education and the San Francisco Unified School District in a statement and discussed it at a news conference.


The school district did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

The lawsuit says school administrators are violating a state requirement that districts adopt a clear plan during the pandemic “to offer classroom-based instruction whenever possible.” The state says the plan has to be in place, particularly for students who have experienced significant learning loss due to school closures.

“So far, they have earned an F,” Herrera said in the statement, referring to the board. “Unfortunately, the leadership of the school district and the educator’s union can’t seem to get their act together.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order directing the school district to prepare to offer in-person instruction now that it is possible to do so safely, the statement said.

San Francisco schools have been allowed to reopen since September, the statement said, noting that nearly 90 percent of schools in neighboring Marin County have resumed in-person instruction and that 113 private schools in San Francisco also are open.

“This is not the path we would have chosen, but nothing matters more right now than getting our kids back in school,” Breed said in the statement. “Our teachers have done an incredible job of trying to support our kids through distance learning, but this isn’t working for anyone. And we know we can do this safely.”


The city attorney will file a motion Feb. 11 asking San Francisco Superior Court to issue an emergency order. If granted, the order would require the district to formulate a reopening plan. The statement said such emergency orders, also known as preliminary injunctions, can only come after a lawsuit is filed.