As we head into the second semester of this school year in distance learning, I want to extend an appreciation to San Francisco Unified School District families, educators and community partners for all the incredible support you are providing children at this time. I know you are all doing your best to create an environment where children can learn while campuses are closed.
This past fall, while providing distance learning to all of our students, our district worked hard to make sure students and families had sufficient technology access and print-based materials to those students who needed them. We opened up remote work locations for teachers. School coordinated care teams, made up of social workers, community-based organizations, teachers and other staff, conducted two rounds of wellness check calls to families reaching close to 40,000 households in each round.
There was a time near the beginning of the school year when San Francisco seemed to be emerging from the pandemic, and we began preparing to return to in-person learning. As with distance learning, we moved quickly to identify what conditions would be necessary to return to in-person during the pandemic.
Just as we were getting closer to meeting all of the required changes to our school sites to return to in-person learning, new conditions began to emerge –– a new surge in COVID cases in the Bay Area, a new COVID strain, etc. We also recently learned that our staff surveillance testing plans need to be re-evaluated based on new information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and new guidelines for surveillance testing for students are just emerging.
In light of this new information, we are reassessing our previous return to in-person learning plans. It continues to be our goal to find a way back to in-person soon and we are working with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to understand current data and information around testing and vaccine distribution.
Some will read reassessing and fear we are abandoning our resolve to return to in-person learning. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We remain committed to finding a way to offer high quality and safe in-person learning options, especially for our most vulnerable students while also delivering a well-rounded and supportive distance learning experience for our students who remain in distance learning.
Nothing about this pandemic has been a clear and straightforward path, and we are not alone in the challenges we face for San Francisco’s public schools. Our peer urban school districts in the state are facing similar challenges and we are seeking to learn and move forward together.
We will continue to share updates regarding our plans.
Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of schools for the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.