San Francisco sues city school district as student suicides hit record highs

The San Francisco school board has made itself into a particular target of derision over the last few weeks, but this is no joking matter. It’s also unlikely to be a phenomenon limited to the Bay Area. The closure of schools has hit children so hard that suicide rates among students has hit new records in the city — and now San Francisco has sued its own school board to force schools to reopen:

The number of suicidal children in San Francisco has hit a record high and health experts say it is clear that keeping public schools closed “is catalyzing a mental health crisis among school-aged children,” according to a lawsuit the city filed Thursday to push its school district to reopen classrooms.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced last week he was taking the dramatic step of suing the city’s own school district, which has kept its classrooms closed nearly a year. In the motion filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court, Herrera included alarming testimony from hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area, doctors and parents on the emotional and mental harms of extended distance learning.

How bad has the impact been? It’s way beyond statistical variance, according to the lawsuit. It cites anecdotal testimony from parents, but also these eye-popping statistics from local hospitals:

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital has seen a 66 percent increase in the number of suicidal children in the emergency room and a 75 percent increase in youth who required hospitalization for mental health services, the lawsuit said, quoting pediatricians, child psychiatrists and emergency room doctors.

Last month, UCSF Children’s Emergency Department at Mission Bay reported record high numbers of suicidal children seen and treated, according to the legal filing which did not provide detailed numbers of cases and hospital visits. It also quoted doctors citing an increase in anxiety, depression and eating disorders among children, consistent with national data.

“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.

With these statistics, the school board must be prioritizing reopenings, right? Wrong. Over the past couple of weeks, the SFUSD board has instead prioritized renaming schools rather than reopening them, barring a gay father from board membership over “diversity” concerns, and dumping admission standards for its premiere magnet high school … even though it’s entirely closed at the moment. The board spent seven hours on whether they could accept the gay dad as a volunteer, while spending zero minutes on, y’know, students:

So yes, the SFUSD school board is a joke and a disgrace. That should not distract, however, from the very real public-health crisis brewing across the country among children while schools remain closed. With the Biden administration vacillating on the definition of re-opening, we may not hear much about skyrocketing suicidal behaviors among students from the White House. This is a gap that local media — and local politicians — need to fill by following San Francisco’s example and forcing schools into court to do their jobs.

Absent that, state legislatures should immediately begin consideration of comprehensive school-choice legislation, including vouchers, as an emergency measure to protect the health of children. Republicans should have been pressing this issue anyway as a means of allowing access by lower-income families to the same choices that wealthier families have in education. Now, those families need a viable path to get their children into operating private-school classrooms while public schools refuse to reopen as a matter of survival.