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Update: San Francisco Sues School District Over Slow Reopening Plans; 'Shame It Has Come To This'

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Frustrated as other Bay Area counties unveil plans aimed at restarting in-person instruction, San Francisco officials filed a lawsuit against the city's school district Wednesday over its alleged failure to follow a state mandate "to offer classroom-based instruction whenever possible."

City Attorney Dennis Herrera called the school board and district's reopening plan "woefully inadequate."

"It's a shame it has come to this," Herrera said. "The city has offered resources, logistical help and public health expertise. Unfortunately, the leadership of the school district and the educators' union can't seem to get their act together. The Board of Education and the school district have had more than 10 months to roll out a concrete plan to get these kids back in school."

San Francisco Mayor London Breed echoed those sentiments.

"This is not the path we would have chosen, but nothing matters more right now than getting our kids back in school," Breed said.

"We are ready and willing to do our part to get our kids back in the classroom," she added. "The data is clear. Black, Latino, and Asian students, especially low-income students, have lost ground academically compared to white and wealthier students. This is hurting the mental health of our kids and our families."

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court, seeks a court order directing the school district to prepare to offer in-person instruction to the city's 54,000 public school students now that it is possible to do so safely.

Herrera said he will file a motion on Feb. 11, asking the court to issue an emergency order. If granted, the order would compel the district to take immediate action.

"The plan SFUSD and adopted by the Board of Education is empty rhetoric. It's a plan to make a plan," said City Attorney of San Francisco Dennis Herrera. "So far, they have earned an F."

SFUSD Board President Gabriela Lopez called this an "embarrassing day" for the city in response during a webinar hosted shortly after the city's news conference.

"It's not helpful when we're making these demands of people and not able to come together as a city, to ensure their safety and trust our process together," said Lopez. "We don't know what's going on with the vaccines. We're hearing from educators this is the number one tool to return safely to schools and the city is not moving in that direction and prioritizing us."

The superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District says the city and county is playing politics and hasn't been supportive of the district in the form of testing and vaccines.

"I actually was supposed to be part of a site walk-through today, but instead of doing that I'm here addressing what I would term to be a frivolous lawsuit that wastes time and energy from my perspective," said SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews.

During a press availability following word of the lawsuit, Matthews was asked if the district had a date set for students to return to the classroom and he did not.

"What we need from the city is not to attack the district but to support it," said United Educators of San Francisco President Susan Solomon. "What has just been demonstrated is that you sue somebody. You don't sit at the table and talk but you sue them."

The impasse largely centers on the question over whether teachers will be vaccinated before a return to the classroom. On Wednesday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said schools can safely reopen schools can safely reopen even if teachers are not vaccinated.

"Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools." said Walensky, citing CDC data showing that social distancing and wearing a mask significantly reduce the spread of the virus in school settings.

On Tuesday, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said during his briefing on the pandemic that schools in Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties can now reopen.

Many school districts in those counties have begun to reopen or will be reopening soon. With the average daily case rate per 100,000 residents for all four counties now under 25 for at least five consecutive days, the state has permitted each county to reopen all K-6 schools if they choose to do so.

"Various public schools in Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Napa counties have all figured it out," Herrera said. "Private and parochial schools in San Francisco have figured it out. In-person instruction needs to be the Board of Education's singular focus — not renaming schools that are empty, or changing admission policies when teachers aren't in classrooms. It's unfortunate we have to take them to court to get it figured out, but enough is enough."

113 private and parochial schools in San Francisco have reopened, with 16,000 students returning, and less than five cases of suspected in-school COVID transmission.

90% of Marin County schools are partially reopened for in-person learning.

"There is a complex issue when talking about reopening a large urban system," said Matthews. "We're looking at a combination of tier and vaccines and how to move forward and we are getting closer everyday."

Schools with grades 7-12 that have already reopened are also allowed to continue providing in-person instruction under the state's reopening framework for schools.

However, schools with those higher grades that have not yet opened will have to wait for their county to leave the purple tier to do so, according to the California Department of Public Health.


Kenny Choi contributed to this report.



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