San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote a letter to the teachers’ union representing San Francisco Unified School District educators Thursday, warning them the recent agreement that they struck to reopen schools did not align with California law.
The tentative agreement, struck between the teachers’ union and district officials, would allow public schools to reopen if vaccines had been made available to staff and the county had reached the “red tier” under the state’s COVID-19 risk designations, of which there are four tiers, with red the second-most severe. Currently, only 0.2% of Californians live in a red-tier, and 99.8% live in a “purple tier,” the most severe risk-level designation.
“Be advised that any reopening plan that fails to offer in-person instruction ‘to the greatest extent possible would be unlawful,’” wrote Herrera in the letter, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. “In short, it is ‘possible’ to offer significant amounts of in-person instruction now to elementary students and vulnerable students in the purple tier at San Francisco’s current level of COVID-19 transmission, without waiting for staff to be fully vaccinated.”
“My goal in reaching out to you now,” Herrera told the union, “is to help ensure that any plan the school district puts in place is legally sound, avoids the need for court intervention, and achieves our shared goal of getting children back to in-person instruction at school to the greatest extent possible as quickly as possible and in a setting that public health authorities agree is safe for students, teachers and staff.”
He said he plans to make his case in court on March 22.
Earlier this month, Herrera filed a lawsuit against the board of education and the district, accusing them of violating state law by failing to detail the steps needed to return students to in-person learning “whenever possible,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Mayor London Breed, who has repeatedly pushed for schools to reopen, subsequently came out in support of the city’s lawsuit against the schools.
The city attorney’s new letter to the union comes after the board of education delayed a vote on whether to approve the union’s agreement with district officials, citing the need to discuss legal matters. The vote had been scheduled to occur on Tuesday, but officials later announced that it would be delayed to discuss litigation from “people who claim to have our students’ best interests at heart.”
“It is one thing to try to use children and young people as ammunition to bolster one’s political agenda,” wrote School Board President Gabriela Lopez and Vice President Alison Collins in an open letter on Monday. “It is quite another to actually care about their education and wellbeing. We are more committed than ever to getting our students back into their classrooms. And to continue to offer supportive distance learning experiences for students and families who choose to remain learning virtually.”
“And while we are working everyday [sic] to ensure our schools are physically safe, the work to ensure our schools’ are emotionally and culturally safe spaces does not stop. There are people who are focused on dividing us in order to undermine the important work of creating school environments that are free from hate. Folks are saying we must first prioritize school reopening before we can address racism. This is a false dichotomy. We can and must do both. Our children and young people deserve schools that are physically, emotionally and culturally safe,” they wrote.
Another vote is now scheduled for next Tuesday.