San Francisco Unified School District has set April 12 as its reopening date after reaching a tentative agreement with the teachers union late Friday evening.
The agreement would bring students back into classrooms for “nearly a full school day, five days a week.” The first to return will be those classified as priority students, those in the lowest grades and those with moderate to severe disabilities. Additional students would return before the end of April, according to the district.
“We are enthusiastic to share this progress and we also know that some students and families who want to return will not be able to at this time,” Superintendent Vincent Matthews said in a statement. “We recognize that distance learning is not ideal for most students and many families have struggled with a full year of distance learning. We truly wish we could reopen schools for everyone.”
Class sizes of up to 22 students for up to third grade would be maintained to accommodate distancing requirements, while both in-person and distance-only students would remain with their current teachers. Should demand exceed capacity, students would have two full days of instruction, according to United Educators of San Francisco.
The agreement comes after nearly three weeks of intensive bargaining to finalize staff agreements needed to reopen in person. Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton came in as a mediator last Thursday after UESF called for one due to “lost confidence.”
“Today’s agreement is the product of months of adapting and reimagining what a return to in-person instruction for educators, students, and families in a large urban district could look like in a pandemic,” said UESF President Susan Solomon. “We want to thank Board President Shamann Walton for his successful work mediating this agreement. Now we need The City and district to make good on their commitment to get school staff vaccinated ASAP.”
San Francisco Unified School District intends to begin bringing back students starting with 12 pre-kindergarten and elementary schools. The district this week sent 4,000 priority access codes for staff to schedule vaccinations.
Final negotiations focused on what a school day would look like, with the number of days a week depending on demand for in-person instruction while balancing educators’ ability to continue distance learning for families that decided to continue virtually. If the number of students seeking to return in-person exceeded the number that could be accommodated due to social distancing needs, SFUSD had proposed to offer students two days a week of full instruction.
UESF, however, had proposed four half-days a week, and argued this would provide more consistency for students and families.
SFUSD estimated that about a third of elementary schools would require a hybrid schedule based on a survey sent out in December. Of families that responded and plan to send students back in-person, 29 percent said they would consider being in a different location and 59 percent said they would consider switching teachers if needed.
SFUSD and UESF previously reached agreements around special education students, which the school board voted to approve on Tuesday. It allows for in-person testing and hearing and vision screening when in the red tier regardless of vaccine availability. It would assign educators for such testing, as well as security aides, based on seniority if not enough volunteer to meet demand.
An assessment center is planned for John O’Connell High School.
The school board also approved last Tuesday health and safety agreements with all unions that would reopen schools when San Francisco reaches the red tier if vaccines are available or in the orange tier regardless of vaccines. Mayor London Breed said The City could exit the state’s most restrictive purple tier for monitoring coronavirus spread and fall to the red tier this week.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who filed suit against the district in February to compel reopening, warned SFUSD last week that he would legally challenge reopening plans that were dependent on vaccine availability. A hearing is scheduled for March 22.
“This is an important step on our path to reopening schools,” School Board President Gabriela Lopez said in a statement. “We continue to be committed to ensuring every student and family in the San Francisco United School District is receiving the support they need.”
UESF will host informational sessions with members next week to ready for ratification.
This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.