Remote learning likely to remain some part of the curriculum at SF schools this fall

School district officials debate best way to resume classes while keeping students safe

San Francisco schools will begin their fall term in August, but exactly how they will operate will remain an unknown until July, school district officials said this week.

The fall semester will begin on Aug. 17 as planned — not July 1 as Gov. Gavin Newsom has previously floated — but San Francisco Unified School District is working out how to reduce the number of students in buildings at the same time to prevent a resurgence of coronavirus.

Officials won’t have a final decision on the process until early to mid-July, Superintendent Vincent Matthews told nearly 900 parents tuned into a PTA webinar Wednesday evening.

“If in some way we believe, with the Department of Public Health, it is safe to bring students back in some way….there have to be less students in the building,” Matthews said.

The choices come down to full-time distance learning or a combination of remote and in-person learning. That could mean staggering half days for students, potentially with half the students in session from 8-11:30 a.m. and the other from noon to 4 p.m.

Options also include having some students attend in person Monday and Wednesday, and the others Tuesday and Thursday, or having a week in person and one week away from school. The final option floated has students traveling in a “bubble,” or group, from one class to the other.

Remote learning will continue through summer school for credit recovery and special education students, as well as summer programming. Several questions remain, including whether students can keep Chromebooks loaned out for distance learning, which Matthews said remains the focus.

Three weeks ago, conversations with health officials indicated distance learning would likely continue for the fall semester, Matthews said. Since then, hospitalization rates have dropped from a peak of 90 to 61 as of Tuesday and most businesses have reopened for curbside pick-up.

“That may still happen but the conversation has shifted from “No way’ to ‘If it were to happen, how would it happen?’” Matthews told parents. “As soon we know information, we’re going to get information to you.”

SFUSD put out a request for quotations on a comprehensive plan for in-person teaching that ended last week. Matthews expects it to come before the Board of Education on June 9, coupled with input sessions for families and educators to formally weigh in.

But in-person instruction may not be possible for many California districts, which are facing a $7 billion cut in state funding without federal assistance from the latest bill moving through Congress. Before Newsom’s May budget revision that spelled painful financial constraints, SFUSD was anticipating a $82.3 million budget deficit from for the upcoming school year and $107.7 million for the 2021-2022 school year.

“The cuts that are coming are like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Matthews, who has worked in education for 30 years. “If we are going to bring students back in some way shape or form, we are going to need more dollars.”

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