School is going to look different this fall

As we enter the first weeks of summer, I know our students, families, and community are eager to hear about what learning will look like in the fall. It’s a matter of great importance to me as well.

Since closing school buildings in March, our staff and educators have been working around the clock with urgency, intelligence, grace and compassion.

We engaged in teacher-led interactive distance learning for PreK-12 students. We launched a family resource link to help connect families with services and answer their questions and provide tech support. We checked in with all SFUSD families to support their wellness. We distributed thousands of technology devices for students to continue learning at home. We provided free meals for students. We produced a daily hour-long educational television show in partnership with KTVU to support our youngest learners.

The many creative and generous ways our staff and community has stepped up during this crisis in support of our public school students is truly humbling.

As we plan for fall learning, we are continuing to gather input and work diligently to create plans that incorporate health guidance, our district’s priorities and values and the input of our diverse community of staff, students and families.

In fact, several work groups have been formed with representatives from organizations representing staff, student and family perspectives. Community partners and district staff are also working together to plan a series of virtual Town Halls in the next few weeks and we’re surveying staff and families related to fall planning now and through early July.

Our district has joined with five Bay Area counties and public health officials and will continue to work closely with regional officials in determining when and how to reopen schools. District representatives are meeting regularly with the Department of Public Health and other City agencies to consider multiple factors related to fall planning.

While there are still many unanswered questions, at this time we know that on August 17, fall semester learning could continue from a distance, it could return to in-person instruction, or it could be a combination of both.

As we consider various scenarios, let me assure you that the health, safety and wellness of our children, youth and staff remains our top priority. We are using some of the evidence-based sources of guidance available as we develop reopening plans. This Centers for Disease Control (CDC) school reopening flowchart poses some of the questions we will be asking ourselves and the actions we will seek to take. Both the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Education have also released guidance for schools and school based programs that we are reviewing closely.

We know that in addition to public health, there are many factors to consider when reopening school buildings for in-person instruction. Based on public health guidance, schools will likely need to operate differently in terms of class configurations, passing periods, recess, lunch, and more.

Many students will likely return with higher levels of need. We will see exacerbated achievement gaps due to inequities in learning opportunities following sustained closures of school buildings. Students will require a variety of supports to address emergent academic, health, and psychological needs. Our instructional priorities must be to understand what children can do as well as where they’re struggling and where they need emotional as well as academic support, and our district is committed to this work.

We know that SFUSD’s decisions about how we reopen schools have a big impact on our whole community. We will continue to seek community input and keep you updated throughout the summer.

Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of schools for the San Franicsco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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