School board members on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution establishing a timeline to bring back all students for in-person instruction starting in January and to hire a project manager.
The Board of Education approved the resolution, introduced last week, to set clear benchmarks for all students from willing families to return to in-person learning, should coronavirus rates allow. San Francisco Unified School District staff must present a detailed plan and timeline on Dec. 8 for all elementary school students.
A plan for middle school and high school students would follow in January. SFUSD is working to bring back students by Jan. 25, which the resolution sets as a working deadline.
“This resolution is really just to uplift the numerous, numerous details that will be required,“ said Board Vice President Gabriela Lopez. “I just want to reiterate my stance on not reopening schools until it is absolutely safe. This is merely our attempt to move forward with the plans.”
Board members Alison Collins and Jenny Lam added an amendment for the district to hire a project manager that reports directly to the volunteer Board of Education, which has had trouble getting questions answered by an overwhelmed district staff. The new manager would help board members collaborate with district staff, help implementation and review communications with stakeholders until students are fully transitioned back.
“Supervisors are paid in excess of $100,000 a year and have three full-time staff, at least,” said Board President Mark Sanchez. “Now in this era of COVID, we are stretched very thin, much more than before. We need help. It’s awkward to be accused…of not doing our jobs.”
SFUSD has offered several updates on the first group of students prioritized for in-person teaching by Jan. 25 — those in first grade or younger and those with disabilities — but little detail on plans for the remaining students. Since announcing that students would not begin returning in-person in 2020, the district has faced pressure to reopen or offer a clear timeline.
Some educators, administrators and service worker representatives pushed back Tuesday on the Jan. 25 deadline to bring students back, citing the amount of work to be done between colder weather, flu season and multiple holidays with families still gathering. Special education teachers noted that their students are vulnerable to coronavirus and may have a tougher time with masks and hygiene.
“Unfortunately in San Francisco, the numbers are creeping back up,” said Virginia Marshall, president of the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators. “I ask you not to open on Jan. 25. Educators want to be back in school as well but we have to stay healthy and stay alive.”
San Francisco on Monday jumped from the state’s least restrictive coronavirus tier to the second-highest as case rates spiked in California. Mayor London Breed ordered the closure of non-essential offices and reduced capacity at fitness centers in response, after shutting down indoor dining last week.
Resolution authors Lam, Lopez, and Board member Stevon Cook reaffirmed that it’s intended to get SFUSD ready to be open once safe.
“It’s a very important step in the right direction,” said Meredith Osbourne, parent and SFUSD grad. “This is doable and we need to do it.”
District staff estimated that about 10,500 students are considered priority groups for the first round of openings.
SFUSD preliminarily has flagged the first 11 sites to open on Jan. 25, which includes early education sites like Leola M. Harvard and San Miguel as well as elementary schools like Alvarado and Glen Park. Pre-kindergarten and students with disabilities would begin with a full week.
Another 26 sites like Grattan and Yick Wo elementary schools would open by Feb. 8, followed by the remaining students at a to-be-determined date.
However, the district has yet to survey families to determine which ones will ultimately return. Spokesperson Gentle Blythe told the board that a general survey and a detailed one for priority families are nearly complete to go out in early December.
Meanwhile, labor agreements continue to be negotiated.
Board members last week approved a contract with testing company Curative to regularly screen employees covered by insurance.
Breed also delegated 20 disaster workers to help the district assess school buildings for safety measures associated with windows, seating arrangements and sinks, to ensure they are fully prepared by January.
District staff will bring forward an in-person plan for elementary school students at the Dec. 8 Board of Education meeting.