SFUSD students may start the school year at home

Staff report recommends starting with distance learning in the fall, transitioning to hybrid model

San Francisco Unified School District staff are recommending that city schools start the fall semester with distance learning for most students and only gradually open up to a hybrid model combining in person and online education, according to a report released Friday.

Students should not return in-person when the semester starts Aug. 17, but once coronavirus infection data improves, the district may begin bringing some instruction back to campus as a hybrid model, staff said. The recommendation comes after a week of town halls and working groups, and gives families and educators their first real glimpse of what’s to come after months of uncertainty.

The Board of Education will discuss fall options on Tuesday and make a final decision on July 28, three weeks before classes begin.

Guidelines released by the Department of Public Health this week highlighted the obstacles to reopening, outlining a long list of precautions needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Schools would need to implement a rigorous regime of handwashing, constant disinfecting, mandatory face coverings, social distancing, and more.

SFUSD has determined that school facilities would require 10 to 12 weeks to accommodate the guidelines for all students and staff under a hybrid model, that the current stockpile of supplies is insufficient, and that protocols for screening and isolation were still needed. Plus, there’s the matter of getting labor groups and families on board and dealing with the fact that public transportation is expected to operate at 30 percent of its normal capacity.

Bringing students back to school is estimated to cost at least $27 million on average across the nation, which doesn’t account for San Francisco expenses. Adding more buses alone would cost another $25 million, nearly double the $32 million transportation budget. SFUSD has structural deficit prediction of $66.3 million by fiscal year 2021-2022.

The obstacles to starting the year with distance learning and phasing in hybrid models appear far more surmountable, according to the staff report. Instruction for distance learning would need to be enhanced, more devices and internet access would need to be dispersed, and more non-digital supplies would be needed for younger grades.

A staff agreement is still needed for all scenarios. Thirty percent of teachers feel ready to return in person, but 29 percent don’t feel ready, and 40 percent are unsure, according to a rolling survey conducted by the United Educators of San Francisco and obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

Commissioners Rachel Norton, Alison Collins, and Board President Mark Sanchez have previously expressed doubt that schools could reopen in some capacity on Aug. 17, while Commissioner Stevon Cook has stated a preference for returning to normal if possible.

The Board of Education will discuss, but not vote on, the staff recommendations at its regular Tuesday meeting at 3 p.m. over Zoom.

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