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COVID Reopening: San Francisco Seeks Emergency Order To Reopen Public Schools

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco is seeking an emergency court order against the city's school district in order to compel the district to reopen public schools.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Thursday filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), the San Francisco Board of Education, and Superintendent Vincent Matthews.

The motion alleges the failure to provide student in-class instruction when health officials have allowed schools to reopen violates children's state constitutional right to attend school and the California Education Code, which requires school districts to "offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible."

A hearing on the motion is set for March 22.

The move is the latest legal effort by San Francisco to reopen its public schools that have been shut for nearly a year because of the pandemic. On Tuesday, Herrera amended a lawsuit against SFUSD originally filed last week to include allegations that the district is violating the California Constitution and state law.

Public schools in San Francisco have been closed for in-class instruction even though state and city health officials have allowed schools in San Francisco to be open for in-person instruction since September.

Herrera noted - as Mayor London Breed has also mentioned when speaking on the subject - that more than 15,000 students have been attending class at 114 private and parochial school for months with no significant COVID-19 outbreaks. He also claimed Marin County has had a combined 1 million in-person school days with no student-to-teacher transmissions since reopening in the fall.

Herrera said the scientific consensus is that it is safe to return to in-person instruction with basic precautions, like masks, physical distance, handwashing and proper ventilation - and that vaccines are not a prerequisite.

"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," said Herrera in a prepared statement. "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."

On Tuesday, Breed and public health officials said that starting on February 24 the city will be moving to Phase 1B with vaccinations being given to education and childcare workers.

Last weekend, the teachers union and district officials reached a tentative agreement on protocols to reopen city schools. In the deal struck, teachers and staff will return to campus when San Francisco reaches the Red Tier and teachers are vaccinated.

The agreement includes several other provisions that needed to be met before in-class instruction could begin, including:

  • District-provided masks and PPE for students and staff
  • Socially distanced classrooms and workspaces
  • Regular and reliable testing for students and staff
  • Health screenings
  • Ventilation upgrades and monitoring
  • Safe and effective enhanced COVID cleaning protocol
  • Robust contact tracing and plan with County Department of Public Health

The school district has created a Frequently Asked Questions page on its website to provide some answers regarding what the tentative agreement will mean for both teachers and families.

Many school districts across Bay Area counties have begun to reopen or will be reopening soon. State guidelines say counties in the Purple Tier of the Blueprint for a Safe Economy may choose to reopen grades K through 6 when COVID case rates drop below 25 cases per 100,000 per day.

Schools with higher grades that have not yet opened will have to wait for their county to leave the Purple Tier, according to the California Department of Public Health.

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