Education News

San Francisco Sues Education Board, District Over Reopening

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

(Bloomberg) — San Francisco is suing its own school district over its failure to reopen schools.

a group of people standing in a room: Students wearing protective masks listen during a lesson at an elementary school in San Francisco.

© Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Students wearing protective masks listen during a lesson at an elementary school in San Francisco.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a complaint Wednesday alleging the board of education and the San Francisco Unified School District failed to create a school reopening plan compliant with state requirements, according to a statement from Herrera’s office. The lawsuit asks the court to direct the district to immediately prepare to offer in-person instruction.


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

Clashes over reopening during the pandemic are erupting across the country as local leaders try to balance teacher safety with the needs of students struggling with virtual school. The growing contention complicates President Joe Biden’s efforts to reopen a majority of U.S. schools within his first 100 days.

Related: Biden’s Bid to Reopen Schools Risks Reigniting Union Tension

Districts are contending with rapidly changing Covid-19 infection rates and challenges obtaining enough vaccines. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday that vaccines aren’t a prerequisite for schools to safely reopen.

Vincent Matthews, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, said in a virtual press conference that the district is working to get buildings open as quickly as possible and called the lawsuit “frivolous.”

“The reason we can’t give a date is because we are continuously working, to be honest with you, on shifting sands,” Matthews said.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that he believes schools can be reopened in this environment and added that he hopes the city, county and district issues will get resolved with support from a $6.6 billion legislative package for schools that his administration has proposed.

“We are putting out a statewide framework providing an unprecedented level of support,” Newsom said in Oakland. “They need more resources and they need flexibility.”

About 38% of U.S. students are attending virtual-only schools and more than a third have never had the chance to return to in-person, according to Burbio, a data service that aggregates school and community calendars.

In Montclair, New Jersey, the public school district announced plans to sue the teachers’ union after a shortage of educators delayed reopening and mediated discussions stalled. The union, the Montclair Education Association, held that the district has failed to adequately prepare classrooms for students and teachers to return.

In Chicago, a fight between the teachers’ union and school district has become a symbol of the national struggles after the union defied orders to return to classrooms. City officials earlier this week said they have made “substantial progress” in negotiations and delayed the return to in-person learning to Thursday.

The case is City and County of San Francisco v. San Francisco Board of Education, 21cv517352, California Superior Court, San Francisco County.

(Updates with district’s comment starting in sixth paragraph, governor’s in eighth.)

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About the author

Mamie M. Arndt