Following an alarming number of child suicides and suicide attempts, the city of San Francisco is suing its own school district to reopen.
The University of California-San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital at Mission Bay reported record-high numbers of suicidal children seen and treated last month. "The UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital has seen a 66% increase in the number of suicidal children in the emergency room, and a 75% increase in youth who required hospitalization for mental health services, the lawsuit said, quoting pediatricians, child psychiatrists and emergency room doctors," USA Today reported. Doctors also saw an increase in anxiety, depression, and eating disorders among children.
The lawsuit calls for San Francisco's public schools to reopen, saying classroom closures are "catalyzing a mental health crisis among school-aged children." Schools have been closed for in-person learning since March.
The lawsuit filed by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera includes "alarming testimony from hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area, doctors, and parents on the emotional and mental harms of extended distance learning."
"The medical evidence is clear that keeping public schools closed is catalyzing a mental health crisis among school-aged children in San Francisco," Dr. Jeanne Noble, director of COVID Response for the UCSF Emergency Department, said.
One San Francisco parent said her 7-year-old son had "uncontrollable meltdowns that turn (the) whole house upside down." Meanwhile, her 10-year-old daughter is exhibiting "depression and anger." The mother believes her daughter's "mental health will continue to suffer" as long as she is kept out of the classroom.
Another mother said her 15-year-old daughter cries often, is frustrated, and "losing faith not just in [San Francisco Unified School District] SFUSD but in the world."
The lawsuit highlighted that 114 of San Francisco's private, parochial, and charter schools have reopened to 15,831 students and about 2,400 staff. Those schools have had fewer than five cases of suspected in-person transmission, according to the lawsuit.
"Distance learning is a form of instruction; it is not school," the lawsuit says. The suit argues that children need the emotional, social, and developmental skills that can only be learned in-person. The lawsuit says that denying students to go to school "constitutes a substantial violation of their constitutional rights."
"SFUSD and teachers' union leadership need to step up. Get your act together, [district] leadership has earned an F," Herrera said. "It's unfortunate we have to take them to court to get it sorted out, but enough is enough."
Public health officials gave the green light for schools to reopen in September, but the district and teachers unions have not been able to reach an agreement to reopen classrooms. The San Francisco Unified School District's Board of Education did have time to bar a gay parent from being appointed to the Parent Advisory Council because he was white. School officials also found time to begin a campaign to rename several San Francisco schools that are deemed "inappropriate," including Presidents George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.
"We wholeheartedly agree that students are better served with in-person learning," the school district's spokeswoman, Laura Dudnick, said on Thursday. "Bringing students back to school in a large public school district is very complex and requires partnership."
"We are eager for the city to make vaccines available to our staff," Dudnick said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines on how schools should reopen, and the health agency declared that school reopenings should not be conditional on having teachers and faculty vaccinated.
In July, Dr. Robert Redfield, the now-former director of the CDC, warned about the psychological damage that lockdowns and remote schooling could inflict on children.
"But there has been another cost that we've seen, particularly in high schools," he said. "We're seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We're seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID."
The former CDC director also said in July that he would "100%" have his grandchildren go back to school.
Last month, the nation's fifth-largest school district declared that it wants to reopen as "quickly as possible" following a rash of student suicides. Clark County School District in Nevada saw double the amount of student suicides in nine months this year compared to all of last year.