In the city of San Francisco, child suicide rates reached record levels during the months of the pandemic and lockdowns. A group of lawyers and doctors on Thursday, Feb. 11, asked a judge to order the immediate reopening of schools to return to in-person learning. 

An emergency request filed by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, citing diverse testimony from parents and doctors about the emotional and mental damage of prolonged distance learning, asked a judge to order the immediate reopening of schools for in-person learning.

Public schools in California have been closed for in-person learning for nearly a year, despite being allowed to resume such classes since the fall of 2020, and education officials say they lack a viable reopening plan.

The continued closure is “causing a mental health crisis among school-aged children,” asserts the petition filed by Herrera, citing Dr. Jeanne Noble, COVID director for the Emergency Department at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital of Oakland.

In several testimonies attached to the request, various physicians and specialists attest to a significant increase in children and adolescents presenting to hospitals and other health care facilities with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. 

UCSF Benioff reported a 66% increase in the number of suicidal children in the emergency room over the past year. There was also a doubling in the number of teens hospitalized for eating disorders and a 75% increase in youth seeking mental health services who required immediate hospitalization amid school closings.

San Francisco sues its school district

The request came a few days after the city sued its own school district, arguing that there are no longer scientific grounds that children should be locked up without contact with peers and teachers.

Private and parochial schools have been open for weeks or months. Public education officials had planned to resume face-to-face classes in March or April but there is no confirmation yet.

The San Francisco district said on Feb. 7 that it reached a tentative agreement with the unions on a reopening plan. The proposed plan will go before the Board of Education for ratification on Feb. 16.

What is certain is that almost everywhere in the country there is a fight being waged by public school teachers’ unions, who in large part oppose without argument the continuation of closed schools after almost a year of closure.

President Joe Biden himself, a great ally of the teachers unions, who had initially pledged to resume classes, now set a very relaxed reopening goal for his first 100 days in office.

“His goal that he set is to have the majority of schools, so more than 50 percent, open by day 100 of his presidency, and that means some teaching in classrooms, so at least one day a week—hopefully it’s more—and obviously it is as much as is safe in each school and local district,” were the words of White House press secretary Jen Psaki.