San Francisco school board commits to full-time in-person education for the fall

The San Francisco school board on Tuesday unanimously voted to commit to a full in-person schedule for all students in...

The San Francisco school board on Tuesday unanimously voted to commit to a full in-person schedule for all students in the fall as uneasy parents pressed for answers.

Board member Jenny Lam brought forward the resolution that was approved Tuesday in late March. It calls for a full fall opening, assuming coronavirus rates continue to fall, but also urges the district to have a backup plan and to continue offering remote learning.

Families have pressed the district for assurance that all students will be returning to the classroom in the fall. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that California is planning for a full reopening of state businesses and activities by June 15, and that there would be “no barrier” to students returning to the classroom.

“Let’s be clear that we must successfully reopen our schools,” Lam said. “The longer we keep staff and educators at the home, the more students get isolated and the accelerated learning that will be needed when our students do return in person.”

The vote comes at a time when San Francisco Unified School District is less than a week from welcoming back the first students to in-person learning after more than a year of distance learning. Prekindergarten to second-grade students, special education students up to fifth grade, and high school athletics will return to 34 school sites on Monday.

Another 50 sites will reopen the following Monday, with special education students in middle and high schools and other select populations returning on April 26. Depending on demand at their school site, some students will have in-person classes only two days a week in order to allow another group of students to come into the classroom while maintaining social distancing.

“Some students and families may be feeling anxious with the change,” said Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “If you’re one of the families returning to in-person learning, please know we’ve done a lot to prepare for your safety and for your learning, too. We’ve never reopened school building quite like this before and we know there are likely to be some hiccups.”

SFUSD is also facing a bit of a teacher shortage. The district has approved 290 of the 584 educators who requested a medical exemption for the spring.

SFUSD has 140 substitute teachers willing to serve and is looking to hire about 90 more. Otherwise, central office staff may be tapped to fill any temporary vacancies.

“It’s not something we want to do, but this is to make sure our students are served when they go back to school,” said Daniel Menezes, SFUSD chief human resources officer, of deploying central office staff. “We’re hoping between all four of those strategies that we’ll be able to cover that gap.”

Though federal guidelines dropped distancing requirements to three feet, SFUSD and the United Educators of San Francisco’s current contract agreement allows for no less than four feet. Testing for students will be provided at four locations while staff must be tested and can be done at SFUSD headquarters.

Nearly 17,000 placement packets were sent out to incoming in-person students and more will be sent to the third batch of students in focal populations returning on April 26. School buses will roll once again to serve 34 elementary schools and special education students, and more than 200 families with students in general education have signed up thus far, staff said.

Many families continue to push for a plan to return the remaining number of middle and high school students to physical classrooms, which SFUSD and UESF are in negotiations for.

“Working parents, in particular, like myself need to know that schools will be reopened so we can plan our work schedules and provide for our families,” said Meredith Osborn, who said she has two children in SFUSD. “Working women, especially, have been negatively impacted with school closures.”

The certainty that comes with the resolution could play a role in enrollment, which shapes how much funding the district receives. Kindergarten applications are down from 4,543 this academic year to 4,101 for the upcoming school year. Applications for 6th and 9th grades have held largely steady.

SFUSD faces a projected $112 million structural deficit by the 2022-2023 school year, though state and federal funding is still being factored in.

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