City Attorney Dennis Herrera in his office at City Hall on Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Herrera files for injunction that would compel school district to reopen

City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Thursday filed for a preliminary injunction that would compel the school district to reopen public schools.

The filing builds on a suit filed last week alleging that the San Francisco Unified School District’s plans to bring students back to physical classrooms are insufficient and violate students’ rights to an education under the California Constitution. Public school students have been educated online for nearly a year, while nearly 15,000 private school students have been in person since the fall.

“Distance learning is not the same thing as school, not even close,” Herrera said in a statement. “We know that teachers are doing heroic work every day trying to keep kids engaged and learning. So are overburdened parents. Even with all of those tremendous efforts, almost a year of being isolated from classmates, friends and teachers is taking a terrifying toll on these kids. It must stop. It’s time to get back in class.”

The filing cited mental health impacts on children, who have been treated in record numbers for suicidal crises at UC San Francisco Children’s Emergency Department at Mission Bay as of January.

The hearing is set for March 22, a few days before the soonest time SFUSD has said it could bring back its youngest students and those with disabilities. The district originally targeted Jan. 25 for reopening, but did not reach a labor agreement in time.

District officials have reiterated that they have a plan to return and blasted the suit as “frivolous” and “counterproductive.”

“To turn on those of us trying to solve this is not helpful whatsoever,” said Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “To say we don’t have a plan is absolutely incorrect. Movement regarding the vaccines would be tremendously helpful. The virus sets the date.

SFUSD and labor unions announced a tentative agreement Sunday on safety standards that would bring students and teachers back to campus when San Francisco reaches the “red” COVID-19 risk tier if vaccines are made available to staff, or in the orange if vaccines are not available. However the district is still negotiating on other conditions such as working hours and class sizes.

Herrera and others have argued that vaccines should not be a prerequisite for reopening and the evidence suggests schools can reopen safely now if precautions are in place.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

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