San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. (Photo via Adriel Hampton/Flickr)

The city of San Francisco is taking legal action to force the city’s public schools to reopen after they have remained closed due to COVID-19 since last March, Mayor London Breed and City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced Wednesday.

Herrera has filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco Unified School District and the San Francisco Board of Education, alleging a plan to reopen from the school district and school board is inadequate and doesn’t meet state guidelines.

The suit is seeking a court order to direct the bodies to come up with a plan to offer in-person learning as safely and as soon as possible. Herrera said he’s planning to seek a preliminary injunction on Feb. 11 to further compel the district to act.

“It’s regrettable that we had to take this decision that we filed today. Suing the school district is not something we ever wanted to do, but something needs to change. The status quo is failing our children and we hope this will move the district to the right thing,” Herrera said.

“More than 54,000 school children are suffering. They’re being turned into ‘Zoombies’ by online schooling. Enough is enough. Getting kids back in school needs to be the only priority of school district leadership,” he said.

Although the district initially planned to reopen schools in phases starting in January, those plans were put on hold in December after the district failed to reach a deal with labor unions over COVID-19 safety measures for educators and other staff in time.

“I know some of our educators have concerns. I understand those concerns and I believe we should listen to them and work to address them,” Breed said. “But the legitimate concerns of some of our teachers can’t stand in the way of starting to get some of our kids back in the classroom.

“Our kids are suffering and the inequalities that existed before this pandemic have only become more severe. The data is clear. Black, Latino and Asian students, especially low-income students, have lost ground in academic achievement. And that is a problem,” she said. “The school district is failing to meet this most basic responsibility and for all the talk I hear from the Board of Education about equity, the data speaks for itself.”

SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews said he just learned of the lawsuit Wednesday morning.

“We absolutely have a comprehensive plan,” he said. “We are reassessing certain parts of the plan. The plan is still there, it’s publicly available, so to say we don’t have a plan is absolutely incorrect.”

Matthews added the district is actively working with the city’s Department of Public Health to approve schools’ reopening.

“Our sites are being approved as we speak. I was actually supposed to be part of a site walkthrough today, but instead I’m here addressing what I would say is a frivolous lawsuit that wastes time and energy.”

“It doesn’t benefit our community to have our school district and city fighting. We have made progress while the city and county has failed to provide the necessary tools for our students to safely return like testing and vaccines,” Board of Education president Gabriela Lopez said. “We understand that this is painful and that we all want to get back, but this is an embarrassing day for San Francisco.”

Of the city’s 113 private and parochial schools, most have already reopened, offering in-person learning for more than 15,800 students. Within those schools, just five cases of COVID-19 have been reported.

Additionally, the city has operated Community Hubs, providing in-person support for some 2,000 students across 78 locations, since September, without any reported COVID-19 cases.