According to the SF Chronicle:

The fight over reopening San Francisco’s public schools will take a dramatic, heated turn on Wednesday as the city becomes the first in the state — and possibly the entire country — to sue its own school district to force classroom doors open.

Why can't the Mayor or the City Council just force schools to reopen? And if they lack the authority, who has the legal power to override the decision of the school district?

  • 3
    Better on law SE? Feb 4 at 10:15
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Fine here. The answer goes to the authority of different political actors that made a political option unavailable, not the lawsuit itself.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 10 at 21:45

They can, and that's actually what they're doing, or at least trying to, here.

The key issue is that the SFUSD board are elected officials, and the superintendent is selected by them, so the mayor and supervisors can't summarily fire them.

Members of the San Francisco Unified Board of Education are elected at large to four-year terms on a staggered basis every even-numbered year.

Until the next election, the school board has the power to do what they think is best, so long as it is in accordance with the law. That's where the lawsuit comes in:

State law (passed by the legislature and governor) already requires schools to make a clear plan to reopen. The school board claims they're complying, but the city alleges that they are defying the order by dragging their feet:

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, with the blessing of Mayor London Breed, plans to sue the San Francisco Board of Education and the San Francisco Unified School District for violating a state law compelling districts to adopt a clear plan during the COVID-19 pandemic describing actions they “will take to offer classroom-based instruction whenever possible.”

When there's a conflict between different parts of government which are not directly subordinate to each other (the article says the school district is overseen by the state), the normal action is to go to the courts, to determine what the law requires and what steps are needed:

The city attorney will file a motion Feb. 11 asking the San Francisco Superior Court to issue an emergency order compelling the district to formulate a reopening plan with the aim, he said in an interview, of “getting kids back in school as quickly as possible.”

The question for the courts is whether the SFUSD's cautious reopening plan (or lack thereof) is in violation of the law pushing for reopening and, if so, what remedies are required.

  • Can the California legislature get rid of the board by passing a law that disbands them out of existence? Feb 4 at 1:55
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    @JonathanReez Sure, the structure of the school board is laid out in the City Charter, so the city can amend it to make the school board appointed positions. Plenty of other cities have done so in recent decades: edweek.org/leadership/n-y-c-mayor-gains-control-over-schools/…
    – divibisan
    Feb 4 at 1:56
  • 6
    Note that in California school districts are generally entirely separate from municipal government. San Francisco is a weird city/county hybrid to begin with; normally those have little connection to each other. Feb 4 at 18:57
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    It would be entertaining if the school board reported that complying with the law would make the board an accessory to murder.
    – Joshua
    Feb 4 at 20:28
  • @jeffronicus I think misunderstanding that fact is the source of the confusion in the question, you could post this as answer.
    – Relaxed
    Feb 9 at 7:56

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