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San Francisco sues its own school district over protracted school closures

The city attorney for San Francisco, Dennis Herrera, sued the San Francisco Board of Elections, the San Francisco Unified School District, and Superintendent Vince Matthews on Wednesday, accusing them of violating a state law mandating that school districts have a plan "to offer classroom-based instruction whenever possible," especially for students experiencing "significant learning loss due to school closures." San Francisco's public schools have been closed to in-person learning for 11 months, despite prodding from Mayor London Breed (D) and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

Breed is supporting the lawsuit, believed to be the first in the U.S. in which a city sued its own school district. "I know this is a drastic step, but I feel we are out of options at this point," she said at a news conference Wednesday. "It's a shame it has come to this," Herrera agreed. "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. So far they have earned an F. Having a plan to make a plan doesn't cut it."

Matthews responded that it "is absolutely incorrect" to say there's no plan, but "we have to agree with our labor partners around what a safe return looks like." The San Francisco school district did have a plan to start reopening schools for its youngest students and those with severe disabilities starting Jan. 25, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, but it failed to reach agreement with the United Educators of San Francisco union.

"I think filing a lawsuit will most likely slow us down," School Board President Gabriela López said Wednesday. "I don't see how this is helpful right now when we are making progress and the county has failed to provide the necessary support with the testing and vaccines we need."

San Francisco County has been praised for keeping COVID-19 levels in check — its seven-day positivity rate is 2.9 percent, versus 10 percent for California as a whole, Politico notes. While San Francisco's 54,000 public school children have been attending school remotely, more than 15,000 kids in private and parochial schools returned to the classrooms, the Chronicle reports, and there have been few if any cases of virus transmission reported either in the private schools or the neighboring districts that have opened their schools.