California’s fight over reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic took a surprising turn Wednesday, when the city of San Francisco became the first in the state, possibly the country, to sue their own school board for not following state guidelines.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the San Francisco Board of Education and the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) for refusing to release a “meaningful plan for how or when in-person” learning will reopen.
The suit alleges that since September 2020, over 110 private schools in the city and 90% of all public and private schools in neighboring Marin County have reopened — with less than 15 cases of in-school virus transmission having been reported.
Herrera claimed the SFUSD’s reopening plan was “woefully inadequate” and lacked an option for “classroom-based instruction whenever possible,” as directed by state law.
The suit, which seeks to obtain a court order directing the district to offer in-person classroom teaching, noted that studies have shown distance learning has affected student’s “mental and emotional health.”
“This is not just shameful, it is also unlawful,” the lawsuit read.
Herrera said he will file a motion on Feb. 11 asking the court to issue an emergency court order, forcing the school district to immediately put together a comprehensive plan.
“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,” Herrera said Wednesday. “So far they have earned an F.”
“Having a plan to make a plan doesn’t cut it,” he added.
But SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews called the lawsuit “frivolous.”
Matthews claimed that he has been meeting every other day with school officials to figure out how to safely reopen schools for in-person learning – adding that he was supposed to be at a school walk-thru, but was instead fending off “incorrect” charges from the City Attorney.
“We are working extremely hard to get our buildings open,” Matthews said.
School Board President Gabriela Lopez also condemned the city’s lawsuit Wednesday, calling it “petty,” reported KTVU, the Fox-owned station in the Bay Area.
“Filing a lawsuit will most likely slow us down,” Lopez later said on Twitter. “I don’t see how this is helpful when we are making progress while the county has failed to provide the necessary support with the testing and vaccines we need.”
“It doesn’t benefit our community when the City continues to divide us,” she added.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed threw her support behind the lawsuit Wednesday, saying it isn’t the “path we would have chosen, but nothing matters more right now than getting our kids back in school.”
“This is hurting the mental health of our kids and our families,” she added.
This isn’t the first time Breed has voiced her discontent with SFUSD, condemning their recent decision to prioritize renaming schools named after historical figures like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, instead of focusing on the immediate needs of San Francisco’s children.
San Francisco’s Board of Education approved a plan in October to rename 44 schools named for historical figures they deemed offensive – a plan that could cost anywhere between $400,000 and $1 million to change uniforms, signs, insignias and other school equipment bearing the school name.
Breed, San Francisco’s first Black female mayor, described the SFUSD’s decision to prioritize school names over children’s education as “offensive.”
“It’s offensive to parents who are juggling their children’s daily at-home learning schedules with doing their own jobs and maintaining their sanity,” she said last fall. “It’s offensive to me as someone who went to our public schools, who loves our public schools, and who knows how those years in the classroom are what lifted me out of poverty and into college. It’s offensive to our kids who are staring at screens day after day instead of learning and growing with their classmates and friends.”
But California Republicans say they are not surprised by the move to rename schools instead of focusing on reopening them.
Harmeet Dhillon, the CEO of the Center for American Liberty, told Fox News Wednesday that San Francisco has a “long history of prioritizing nonsense ideas.” Adding that “it’s entirely in character” for them to “hijack the agenda of children’s education.”
“This lawsuit is welcome, but six months overdue,” continued Dhillon, who is also the former vice chair of the California Republican Party. “The students of San Francisco just like all of California have been barred from and education over the last year.”
“I think it’s rich for the county leaders who have been enforcing an oppressive lockdown…to wake up and acknowledge how the lockdown is destroying children’s education,” she continued. “I think it’s good, but too little too late.”
The San Francisco Board of Education could not be immediately reached by Fox News for comment.
Brie Stimson contributed to this report.