Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton has stepped in as a mediator in bargaining between the public school district and teacher’s union over in-person instruction.
Walton took on the role on Thursday after United Educators of San Francisco called for a mediator on Tuesday due to “lost confidence” in district leadership to bargain, the Examiner has learned. UESF and San Francisco Unified School District had anticipated reaching an agreement over in-person instruction after five days of extensive bargaining last week but remain at odds after resuming talks on Tuesday.
“Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton has agreed to mediate, and joined us yesterday and today,” UESF wrote to its members late Friday afternoon. “We are meeting again all day tomorrow, and are dedicated to and focused on moving this along, but mediation is a slow process and we will keep you abreast of any agreements or outcomes as soon as possible.”
Walton, who previously served on the school board, was not immediately available for comment.
Disagreements center around what in-person instruction schedules should look like, depending on demand. SFUSD staff on Tuesday estimated 25 elementary school sites, about one-third, would need a hybrid model due to high demand and social distancing requirements. California public health guidelines tell schools to keep desks six feet apart, or at least four feet apart after a good-faith effort has been made.
SFUSD estimated most classrooms would have enough space for 14 students under those guidelines and that it has capacity districtwide for 15,000 daily seats. To accommodate every student whose parents wish for them to return in-person, the district proposes two full days a week for schools with high demand, while UESF is proposing four half-days a week.
“We are committed to reopening as many schools as possible for in-person instruction,” said SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews earlier this week. “Our goal has been and continues to be to maximize daily in-person instruction for students and maintain as much consistency as possible by welcoming students back to the school in which they’re enrolled.”
There has been little movement in a week and numerous press conferences or statements detailing the matter, which came after parent demands for transparency, may have undermined progress in negotiations.
SFUSD and UESF did reach an agreement last week, ratified by the school board on Tuesday, over assessments needed for special education students. The district will set up an assessment center at John O’Connell High School, which is eligible to open when San Francisco reaches the red tier.
The school board also approved health and safety agreements reached with all unions to return in-person once San Francisco reaches the red tier with vaccines or orange without vaccines.
SFUSD is basing its predictions for demands on surveys that went out in December and that 81 percent of families completed. About 13 percent of classrooms with priority students, younger grades and students with moderate and severe disabilities had more than 14 students who opted for in-person learning.
Preferences varied depending on demographics and school sites, but overall, 57 percent, or up to 7,000 students that responded, planned to return as of the Feb. 22 results. School site responses ranged from 17 percent to 86 percent of families who plan to send students back.
Of those that plan to return, 29 percent said they would consider being in a different location and 59 percent said they would consider switching teachers if needed.
In-person preferences are highest among white families (80 percent), non-English learners (62 percent), and students in Japanese and Korean language pathways (74 percent and 83 percent, respectively). Opting into in-person learning was lower among Asian families (36 percent), Filipino students (41 percent), Cantonese bilingual program students (19 percent) and socio-economically disadvantaged students (48 percent.)
SFUSD estimates it needs five weeks to implement reopening for priority groups once key indicators are met, including a drop in San Francisco’s coronavirus tier, the availability of testing and vaccinations, and labor agreements. Mayor London Breed indicated The City may fall from purple, the state’s most restrictive tier, to red in the next week.