Vincent Matthews, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, explains the district’s fall 2020 learning plan for continued distance learning at the district board meeting via Zoom on Tuesday. (Examiner screenshot)

SFUSD fall learning plan offers few details for anxious parents

The San Francisco Unified School District has solidified the broad outlines of its fall learning plan, but less than three weeks before classes begin, a clear picture of what distance learning will look like has yet to emerge.

SFUSD settled on starting the school year with distance learning two weeks ago, giving families and educators more time to settle into the new reality of distance learning. But on Tuesday, when the school board was expected to vote on a plan, many details on that remote instruction were still being worked out.

“This fall learning plan is our high-level recommendation and themes in areas,” Superintendent Vincent Matthews said Tuesday evening. “Some people have emailed today [that] the level of detail especially around learning is not here, and it’s not meant to be. It’s actually in our distance learning guide.”

That guide is still in the works, pending agreements with staff unions.

Classes begin on Aug. 17.

The fall learning plan, which was unanimously approved Tuesday evening, offered a phased approach to the school year, with distance learning for all students to start with and a gradual move into hybrid learning when coronavirus data presents a safe landscape.

The document assessed how spring online instruction went, with just 24 percent of families surveyed said they felt “quite satisfied” with distance learning, 20 percent answering that their children learned “about the same” or more as regular school, and 34 percent reporting that their child was “frequently” motivated to do schoolwork. About 86 percent said they have tech access that is “good enough to support distance learning most or all of the time.”

It also broadly went over the first phase of full distance learning.

Educators can engage in synchronous teaching, where the group is engaging live, or asynchronously at different times through a pre-recorded lesson.

For students to be considered present, they must participate in daily live interaction, a management platform like Google Classroom or Seesaw, interact with educators, and submit assignments as evidence of completion.

The plan acknowledged that students learn better face-to-face, but that the district will at least be working to create more avenues for virtual connection. It recommended regularly scheduled office hours for students and families to check in with educators.

Students with disabilities will receive a new emergency learning plan under Senate Bill 98, replacing their usual IEPs. It also offered considerations for educators with English learners, like planning for accommodations and offering individual support.

Several public commenters sought specifics, particularly for younger students, and even questioned if the start date could be pushed farther out.

“What I was hoping to get clarity on is what my child’s day would look like,” said Deepa Sureka, a parent of two children in SFUSD. “I still don’t have that answer. School starts in two weeks.”

Susan Solomon, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, said last week that they hoped to have a new memorandum of understanding by Aug. 11, when teachers return, but that Aug. 17, when classes begin, would be the final deadline. Another MOU would be needed for the hybrid model.

“They are asking for pretty big concessions from labor and it’s not really clear why to us they think they need to,” Solomon previously told the Examiner.

On Tuesday before public comment, Solomon added that they have concerns about special education and pre-kindergarten students.

“We do still have a long way to go,” Solomon said. “We will work just as hard as we can to get this MOU finished and serve our students the way they deserve to be treated by the school district.”

Board member Allison Collins referred to the fall learning plan as a “framework” for individual schools to work with. Principals returned to work this week and educators, who have sought more time to prepare for distance learning with a new class, don’t return until the week before class begins.

“I can’t tell people what it is because it’s going to look different in every school,” said Collins, who wrote a Medium post with Board member Gabriela Lopez on distance learning. “We wouldn’t want it to be a final plan, it would not include input from families. What central office is doing right now is saying these are the models we want…these are the key concepts we want teachers to focus on.”

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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