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Hundreds of people march to City Hall in San Francisco, California, on February 6, to protest against remote learning and demand schools reopen in-person education. Santiago Mejia/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

The city of San Francisco filed an emergency court order Thursday in an effort to force its public schools to open for in-person instruction, calling the school district’s decision to remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic “unconscionable and unlawful” and alleging it had violated children’s constitutional rights.

The action comes on the heels of the city’s lawsuit last week against its own school district, and as others around the country are under pressure to resume classroom instruction amid the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine.

In the city’s filing Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court, attorneys argued that a preliminary injunction should be granted on multiple grounds, stating that the San Francisco Unified School District’s “failure to reopen schools violates the constitutional right to attend school.”

While public schools in San Francisco have remain shuttered for nearly a year, more than 100 private, parochial and charter schools have reopened, with about 15,000 students and 2,400 staff participating in in-person instruction, city attorneys said in the filing. And despite the return to classrooms, “there have been fewer than five cases of suspected in-school transmission,” it said.

Earlier this week, the district reached an agreement with the teacher’s union that in person teaching could resume once all staff is vaccinated. Mayor London Breed said if that agreement stands, it’s likely that schools would not resume this school year. City attorneys also took issue with the suggestion that all teachers must be vaccinated before in-class instruction could resume.

“The scientific consensus of federal, state and local health officials is that it is safe to return to in-person instruction with basic precautions, like masks, physical distance, handwashing and proper ventilation,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “Vaccines are not a prerequisite.”

The city argued remote learning is “having horrific mental health consequences for children,” with the University of California, San Francisco Children’s hospital reporting “the highest number of suicidal children seen and treated in the emergency department on record.”

A court date has been scheduled for March 22.

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