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San Francisco is suing its own school district and school board for failing to come up with a comprehensive plan to reopen schools, but school officials rebuke that claim.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Mayor London Breed announced the lawsuit in a press conference Tuesday morning, saying that the San Francisco Unified School District and school board have had several months to craft a plan to reopen public schools. The district has relied on distance learning since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March.

According to Herrera, the suit alleges the school district has offered an inadequate plan that fails to meet basic state requirements to offer in-person learning whenever possible. He added that the school board and district have earned an ‘F’ due to their a lack of concrete planning.

Herrera said:

“Unfortunately, the plan prepared by the San Francisco Unified School District and adopted by the Board of Education, is ambiguous empty rhetoric. It’s a plan to make a plan and is legally insufficient.”

The City is seeking a court order on Feb.11 to compel the district to act, Herrera said.

The mayor said The City has offered the district support with school assessments and $15 million provided to fill last year’s budget gap.

Breed expressed her frustration over data that reflects a drop in attendance and learning disparities among students of color. She said:

“While I don’t control the schools, I am the elected leader of the city and I’m not going to stand by while our children and our families continue to suffer with no end in sight.”

Superintendent Vincent Matthews and school board President Gabriela López held a press conference immediately after the lawsuit announcement. Matthews said it is not true that the school district does not have plan to reopen:

“We absolutely have a comprehensive plan and this plan has specific steps around health and safety guidelines of what our processes would be and what in-person learning would look like for our focus student populations to return as soon as we can.”

The school district has posted a 47-page document online that they claim outlines a plan for safely returning to in-person learning, which includes goal-oriented dashboards in several areas: school site preparation, personal protective equipment supply and labor agreements.

López described the lawsuit as “petty” and stressed that fighting between The City and district is counterproductive. 

She said:

“We have made progress as has been shared, while the city and county has failed to provide the necessary tools for our city to safely return, like testing and vaccines.”

City officials announced in December that the school district had signed an agreement with Curative Lab to support a plan for testing school staff for Covid-19. Unfortunately, the U.S. Drug and Food Administration issued a warning in January about false results being reported by Curative Labs tests. The SFUSD since suspended its pilot program with the company.

López said the district is now in a competitive bidding process to find a new provider. She added that this was an “embarrassing day” for The City. Matthews echoed that sentiment.

The superintendent recalled when former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and then Superintendent Dennis Chaconas minced words with each other in The Oakland Tribune, adding:

“It did not benefit the city of Oakland, when the mayor was attacking the school system, and it didn’t benefit the city, when the school system was attacking the mayor about the conditions of the city.”

Matthews added that the school district continues to meet with its labor groups for a safe return to in-person learning and said “every day we get a little closer.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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