This week I greeted students at Bret Harte Elementary and heard stories from across The City as we reopened 33 sites for pre-kindergarten through second grade and three county schools for secondary students. Over the course of the month, we will reopen all of our preschools and elementary schools; middle- and high-school sites will host a limited number of students.
Even though it’s a partial reopening for the San Francisco Unified School District, it’s been a long time coming.
I want to thank Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews for delaying his retirement to help guide the SFUSD community to a full return to in-person learning. His leadership and dedication are crucial at this time. And to the many, many folks at the district who have worked hard to juggle ever-changing guidelines to get us to this point, we are all grateful.
But I am not celebrating.
With an entire year of distance learning, we know for a fact that students learn best in-person. Common Sense Media shows nearly a quarter of 14- to 17-year-olds have had moderate to severe depressive symptoms during the pandemic. UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital has seen a 66% increase in the number of suicidal children in the emergency room — and a 75% increase in youth who required hospitalization for mental health services. The San Francisco Chronicle also found that 46% of parents saw their child’s mental health worsen during the pandemic.
And those are just the students and families who could be reached. Distance learning’s impact on our students furthest from opportunity remains to be fully seen. The Education Endowment Foundation projects that continued school closures will widen the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.
Last week, the Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution I introduced to solidly commit to returning students to in-person learning by the first day of the of 2021-22 school year. This resolution focuses not just on reopening, but addressing academic and emotional losses our students have experienced. We must now turn our attention to creating education recovery plans and accelerated learning.
Our limited reopening to our youngest students is a step in the right direction. But we must stay focused on a full, five-day return to school — and learning recovery — by Aug. 16, 2021.
Commissioner Jenny Lam serves on the San Francisco Unified School District Board.