Parents and students wait in a socially distanced line before the first day of post-pandemic in-person learning at Bret Harte Elementary School on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Parents and students wait in a socially distanced line before the first day of post-pandemic in-person learning at Bret Harte Elementary School on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

‘It’s a beautiful sight’: The first students return to the classroom

San Francisco’s youngest public school students stepped into classrooms for in-person learning on Monday for the first time since the pandemic shuttered campuses more than a year ago.

San Francisco Unified School District reopened 36 school sites on Monday, 22 of which were elementary schools. Pre-kindergarten to second graders were the first to come back, but are set to be followed by many third to fifth graders and students with moderate to severe disabilities next Monday.

On April 26, some high risk populations — including those considered disengaged from distance learning and those in special education day classes — at all grade levels will be welcomed back. By the end of April, about 22,000 students at 107 schools will be receiving regular in-person learning.

First grader Jordan Graves begins his first day of in-person learning this school year at Bret Harte Elementary School on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

First grader Jordan Graves begins his first day of in-person learning this school year at Bret Harte Elementary School on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

“It’s a beautiful sight,” said Mayor London Breed outside Bret Harte Elementary School. “It took a lot of work. If we focus on [kids] and what their needs are, then we can accomplish what we need to get the schools open.”

Depending on demand, some students may have school in-person two days a week to allow for two cohorts in the same class. Many of the younger students, however, will have in-person learning five days a week.

Some teachers, like kindergarten teacher Chris Johnson, will also have students who are remaining in distance learning to tend to while teaching the rest of the class in person five days a week.

Vincent Matthews, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, shares an elbow bump with first grader Jordan Graves. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Vincent Matthews, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, shares an elbow bump with first grader Jordan Graves. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Some parents continue to push for older students to be allowed to return to classrooms this spring. Breed added that with better conditions to limit the spread of coronavirus, all students should be able to be in school in person. She supported a suit filed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera seeking an injunction compelling the schools to immediately reopen, which was denied in late March.

Superintendent Vincent Matthews said the district is still looking at the possibility of adding another secondary grade this spring — which would quality SFUSD for more state funding — but that “most middle and high will likely be in the fall.

Faauuga Moliga, a member of the San Francisco Unified School District board, greets students. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Faauuga Moliga, a member of the San Francisco Unified School District board, greets students. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

“We want to bring as many students back as possible but we want to do it as safe as possible and in order to do that, it takes time,” Matthews said. “We’re doing all of this on shifting sand.”

The school board last week committed to a full return for all students for the upcoming school year.

Superintendent Vincent Matthews and Mayor London Breed greet students at Bret Harte Elementary School on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Superintendent Vincent Matthews and Mayor London Breed greet students at Bret Harte Elementary School on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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