Tearful Breed, others urge education leaders to reopen schools: ‘Kids are struggling’

San Francisco families, mayor and state elected officials formed a united front Thursday in urging school and labor leaders to listen to the health experts, come to an agreement and reopen schools as soon as possible.

At a press conference sponsored by the parent group, Decreasing the Distance, a tearful Mayor London Breed, standing before children hold signs saying “I miss my friends,” urged the adults to end division and finger-pointing to get schools open.

“It just really breaks my heart to be here to see these kids and these families to know what they’ve been going through,” Breed said. “Kids are struggling in our city and we all know it.”

The city’s schools have been closed since mid-March, even though 15,000 private school students in San Francisco are back in classrooms.

The press conference came a day after City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against the school district and school board, claiming they failed to create a specific and concise state-required plan to reopen.

The organizers of the event Thursday announced the creation of a citywide petition, urging the school board and teachers union to reach an agreement by Feb. 18 on the conditions required to reopen schools.

San Francisco’s state Sen. Scott Wiener said he was appalled that the day after the school board voted to rename 44 schools, a letter went out to parents from the superintendent saying middle and high schools would likely not reopen this school year.

“I have always been a big supporter and fan of this school district,” he said. “My frustration is what I see is a defeatist attitude.”

School board President Gabriela Lopez did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the press conference, but posted photos on social media earlier in the day as she toured a school to see the status for reopening.

“Our school administrators and our district staff have been working non-stop to make this happen, a task that is hard to do across the state,” she said in the posts.

School district officials said earlier in the week that they are ready to reopen to the youngest and most at-risk students, pending an agreement with labor unions.

Negotiations have been ongoing for months, with the teachers union calling for health and safety standards that surpass what is recommended or required by local, state and national health officials — including demands for toilet lids and air monitoring in every classroom.

“We know the schools can open,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. “We know the schools can open because the professional health officials tell us we can open.”

Jill Tucker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @jilltucker

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