Teachers have voted to approve a contract with the San Francisco Unified School District to resume in-person teaching after a year of distance learning, but tension remains over the schedule put forward by the district.
Members of the United Educators of San Francisco over the last week voted 80 percent in favor of ratifying a contract with the district that spells out health and safety standards and other requirements for a return to the classroom, a union spokesperson told The Examiner Sunday. The district plans to begin bringing students back starting April 12, beginning with some of the very youngest students.
However, as many as 200 union members turned out for a rally and car caravan on Sunday to continue to lobby for better schedules. Teachers at the rally, which began in the Bayview and ended at district headquarters at 555 Franklin St., said the current schedule does not leave them enough time to prepare properly for either in-person or distance learning, and shortchanges students who choose to continue in distance learning.
The schedule has teachers teaching both in-person and online, teaching students in-person four days a week, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and online on Wednesdays. For classes where more students have asked to return than can be accommodated, students will attend school in person two days a week and alternate groups.
For students who choose to continue distance learning, the schedules call for 30 minutes in the morning, starting as early as 8 a.m. in some cases, and then “asynchronous learning’ — independent school work — for most of the day with a longer spell of online learning in the late afternoon after in-person classes are dismissed. The contract deal with teachers calls for distance learners to get at least 120 minutes of live, synchronous education every day except Wednesday, when teachers are given more time to prepare.
The district has said the schedule was a “compromise” developed after consultation with the union, which wanted to keep teachers together with their classes. However the district was not required to bargain with the union on schedules and union officials have said the final schedule is not one they support.
“We got good [memorandums of understanding] on heath and safety and working conditions, but that’s not enough. We need those schedules,” UESF President Susan Solomon said at the rally Sunday. “We consulted, but we didn’t get what educators need and that’s why we’re here today.”
Cathy Sullivan, a kindergarten teacher at Grattan Elementary, said teachers are being asked to “teach on two very different platforms in two very different ways, and if that’s what my students need that’s what I will do.”
“However, in order to provide the best education for both groups of students, teachers need more preparation time,” Sullivan said. “If we don’t have that preparation time, our students are going to be the ones who suffer.”
Evelyn Martinez, a bilingual teacher, said that more than half of her students were continuing with distance learning. She said COVID-19 has hit families of color harder, in part because many have jobs that do not allow them to shelter at home, and they are more likely to want to continue distance learning as a result.
“The schedule prioritizes face to face learners,” Martinez said. “We demand schedules that work for families that want distance learning. Let’s prioritize and listen to what brown and Black families want.”
Board of Education President Gabriela López on Sunday said the memorandum of understanding signed by the district and teachers includes some flexibility on schedules for schools. The language in question on the contract states that teachers may, with approval, “reconfigure the blocks on the schedule beginning with lunch, and continuing through preparation time, in-person and distance instruction until the end of the day on Wednesdays.”
“We know educators shared the importance of continuity of learning and being with their students, and the schedules reflect the same 120 minutes of synchronous learning for students who choose to remain in DL,” López said in a text message.
The teachers rally comes the day after a rally held by parents to mark a full-year since school was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district has been subject to rising political pressure to reopen schools from parents and from elected officials including Mayor London Breed, who spoke at Saturday’s event, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who filed a lawsuit to pressure the district to reopen.
The Board of Education is scheduled to meet Tuesday for updates on summer and Fall 2021 planning, the district budget, which faced a large structural deficit even before the pandemic began, and student athletics.