An empty playground seen through the security fence at Frank McCoppin Elementary School in the Richmond District on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

An empty playground seen through the security fence at Frank McCoppin Elementary School in the Richmond District on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

School board proposal directs district to set ‘clear’ timeline for reopening

San Francisco public school officials would have less than a month to present a detailed plan for returning all elementary school students to in-person learning under a resolution being introduced Tuesday at the Board of Education.

The resolution from school board members Jenny Lam and Stevon Cook and Vice President Gabriela Lopez would instruct the San Francisco Unified School District to release a plan by Dec. 8 that includes a start date for all elementary students. The district would then have until January to present a timeline for middle and high school students to return.

For the first time, the resolution would also set a specific start date of Jan. 25 for some students with disabilities as well as those who are in first grade or younger.

“As a board, it’s clear that after talking with families, talking with students that there needs to be more clarity and more clear timelines,” said Lam. “We will do this in collaboration with our city.”

The district and school board have been facing intense pressure from some parents and city officials to resume campus learning.

The SFUSD is scheduled to update the Board of Education on reopening plans Tuesday. So far, the district has only released plans to return younger students and those with disabilities to campuses by January.

“Consistent with our fall learning plan, the superintendent and district leaders have been preparing to reopen some schools to specific groups of students by Jan. 25, and will share more details about the work underway during the progress update this week and at the board meeting on Nov. 17,” said SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick.

Superintendent Vincent Matthews has expressed reluctance about setting dates for students to return should the district fail to meet the deadline or have to close the schools again because of COVID-19 issues.

The district has to take into consideration a myriad of issues including a lack of ventilation in classrooms and the need for more custodial staff and nurses. A previous estimate from August showed costs associated with re-opening could run up to $84 million.

The resolution calls for the district to release costs associated with its plans.

When reached Monday, Commissioner Rachel Norton and board President Mark Sanchez had both not read the resolution but said they generally supported providing more clarity to the broader community.

“The board has obviously heard some criticism from the community and is trying to respond to that by really laying out, I understand, clear guidelines for reopening,” Norton said. “I don’t think staff or the superintendent doesn’t want to reopen, I think it’s a very complex undertaking with a lot of moving pieces.”

One of those issues is COVID-19 testing and the cost of the district finding its own provider. Sanchez said the district is working with The City to help with the costs and the management of an operating system to track testing.

The district is also currently engaged in labor negotiations with the United Educators of San Francisco over in-person teaching. State guidelines recommend testing staff every other month while educators, including Sanchez, want it to occur more often.

“I’d feel totally comfortable coming back…but I’m going to want a test more than every two months,” said Sanchez, who is a teacher in Daly City preparing to return to the classroom in January. “That, frankly, isn’t enough. That’s where we’re locked in negotiations.”

UESF was not available for comment by press time. President Susan Solomon has repeatedly expressed that educators do not prefer distance learning but want to ensure safety.

“There is enormous pressure to open,” Solomon said last week. “The school district is doing what it can to make sure it’s a safe reopening.”

The resolution would also direct SFUSD staff conduct a survey to determine how many families want to send their children back to school.

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