Children hold signs at Jose Ortega Elementary School during a news conference calling for the reopening of SFUSD schools on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Children hold signs at Jose Ortega Elementary School during a news conference calling for the reopening of SFUSD schools on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Parents, city officials urge SFUSD to reach labor deal on reopening

District needs agreement by Feb. 18 to begin first phase by March 25

Parent advocates and city officials on Thursday called on the school district to reach a labor agreement by Feb. 18 to ensure a timely return to in-person learning.

Decreasing the Distance, a parent group focused on reopening schools that launched in July, focused pressure at a press conference Thursday on the need for the San Francisco Unified School District to reach a deal with labor groups after several months of negotiations. Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, state Sen. Scott Wiener, and Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting joined the press conference and backed a petition launched by the group calling for the same thing on Thursday.

“Every single day of loss matters,” said parent Yvette Edwards, a member of the volunteer group. “Make it happen, even if it’s on the tail end of the year. We need to keep these transmission rates low to make our children and our educators feel safe.”

The push comes one day after City Attorney Dennis Herrera, backed by Breed, filed a lawsuit against SFUSD saying it had a “woefully inadequate” reopening plan — an allegation which district officials denied. Herrera will file for an injunction on Feb. 11 to compel the district to act.

“It just breaks my heart to be here and see these kids and these families, to know what they’ve been going through,” Breed said at the press conference. “We’re not here to be divisive, we’re not here to point the finger. We’re here to meet with all of you and to work together to make this a reality.”

Fourth grader Kiah Nanda speaks during a news conference to reopen SFUSD schools at Jose Ortega Elementary School on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Fourth grader Kiah Nanda speaks during a news conference to reopen SFUSD schools at Jose Ortega Elementary School on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Superintendent Vincent Matthews has called the suit, which was announced without warning to the district or discussion, “frivolous,” and said it impedes work on reopening.

A couple of fourth graders spoke Thursday about their struggles with doing their work on a screen, with their parents unable to help with homework. A recent SFUSD report found that attendance and learning disparities have increased under distance learning.

“My son is struggling with anxiety, sadness and frustration due to lack of socialization and learning loss,” said Dheyanira Calahorrano, whose son attends Everett Middle School. “Like so many during this pandemic, I had to reduce my hours to help my son with his education and I was afraid of not having enough money to pay the rent.”

Chiu and Ting, who are both parents, also expressed worry about the impact on their children and screen addiction. Ting said the State Legislature is working on proposals to get resources to schools — if they actually reopen. However a proposal by Gov. Gavin Newsom fizzled out after criticism from superintendents including Matthews.

“As a parent, I see this every single day, and I worry that this year has been lost to my children,” Ting said. “We wanna make sure schools get the resources to open up but not if they’re not going to physically reopen.”

The petition calls for labor and district leadership to finalize agreements by the next bargaining deadline needed to bring back the youngest students and those with disabilities starting March 25, followed by homeless and foster youth and those with limited online engagement. SFUSD said last week that most middle and high school students were unlikely to return this semester.

Negotiations have already failed to hit a December deadline to return by Jan. 25. United Educators of San Francisco President Susan Solomon noted at the time that they weren’t told about the deadline until that week. Multiple school officials have since noted that progress is being made with each bargaining session, including this week, and denounced the lawsuit as divisive and counter-productive.

SFUSD must also undergo another lengthy and competitive request for proposal process on its own to find a testing provider after its previous partner Curative was flagged a high risk of false negatives. State reopening requirements in purple tier now require proactively testing students, something unions sought early on. Meanwhile, it is unclear when vaccinations for educators will be rolled out.

“Filing a lawsuit is not going to speed things up. I think it’s going to do the opposite,” School Board President Gabriela Lopez said on Wednesday. “It doesn’t benefit our community to have the school district and city fighting. We’re going to get farther by working together rather than playing politics. It’s an embarrassing day for San Francisco.”

Decreasing the Distance is also organizing a march from City Hall to the SFUSD office at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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