Breed urges SFUSD to ‘do what needs to be done’ to reopen schools

Mayor warns ‘the achievement gap is widening’ as private schools return to in-person learning

Mayor London Breed on Friday sharply criticized San Francisco public school officials for focusing on ongoing efforts to rename schools rather than reopen them.

Public health officials allowed schools with approved plans to open in September, and have since granted 53 private schools with waivers. Without a firm plan to reopen, San Francisco Unified School students are falling behind as a result, Breed said.

Breed issued the statement after the San Francisco Chronicle reported that 44 school sites or programs were told this week to brainstorm alternative names by Dec. 18.

“Parents are frustrated and looking for answers,” Breed said Friday. “Until those doors are open, the School Board and the District should be focused on getting our kids back in the classroom. I know this isn’t easy, I know there are tough choices to be made, but the School District and the Board of Education need to do what needs to be done to get our kids back in school.”

The request to brainstorm names came out of a volunteer-led school names advisory committee, which was formed in response to 2018 legislation and began meeting before the pandemic. Schools have already begun thinking about renaming schools and the October deadline to submit name suggestions was moved to Dec. 18 after principals requested an extension, said task force member Mari Villaluna.

“Respectfully, the two are not connected,” said Villaluna, former SFUSD educator. “We have been working on this for years. The school board is not even doing the process, it’s task force led. The superintendent is not thinking about school names. We want our students to be proud of the schools that we go to.”

Commissioner Stevon Cook also pointed out on Twitter that the Board of Education hasn’t had school names on the agenda since the pandemic and asked, “So where is this ‘do your job BS’ coming from?”

Issues with reopening schools and distance learning have hung over school board meetings for months. The district has said it plans to ease into a hybrid model of learning, with a mix of students on campus and distance learning.

The first group to come back would be small cohorts of students with moderate to severe disabilities and younger students up to first grade. The size of that group could range from 500 to 1,000 students at roughly 15 sites.

The next phase would bring students back that have limited online engagement, students facing homelessness, and foster youth; that phase would bring the number of students up to 15,000 students at 60 sites. At least 54,000 students are enrolled in SFUSD.

Superintendent Vincent Matthews will be presenting a dashboard on the district’s progress toward reopening at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. SFUSD is also in the process of putting out a request for proposals to implement a testing plan to have staff tested every two months. But it could cost as much as $300 per month per person tested, according to Matthews.

“My colleagues and I are in full agreement that the biggest priority is ensuring the continued education of our students and the wellbeing of everyone in our community, including students, staff, and their families,” said Board President Mark Sanchez. “We also believe the timing for taking an anti-racist stance is as much now as ever, even in the midst of the pandemic. But I want to assure you that reopening schools is in no way being held up by the community process the school renaming panel is engaged in.”

SFUSD still needs to finalize a labor contract for hybrid learning, which is being negotiated with United Educators of San Francisco. But facilities remain a big challenge, with an estimated six to 10 weeks needed to prepare them, and many schools lacking the ventilation needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The preparations take massive resources. The City contributed $15 million to help with SFUSD’s budget deficit, which existed before the pandemic, and has also opened community hubs to provide extended daycare for students with the most needs, although that program has been notably under-enrolled and underutilized.

Private schools like Convent & Stuart Hall have been able to invest in an upgraded HVAC system, purifiers, UV sanitizers, and other protective measures that allowed them to get waivers to reopen.

Breed’s remarks Friday also come shortly before a school board election in which two incumbents, Sanchez and Jenny Lam, are up for reelection. Breed has endorsed Lam, who works in the mayor’s office, but not Sanchez.

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