A group of Sunnyside Elementary School teachers attended a United Educators of San Francisco rally on Saturday Feb. 20, 2021. The teachers said it has been difficult for students to learn online. (Samantha Laurey/ Special to SF Examiner)

A group of Sunnyside Elementary School teachers attended a United Educators of San Francisco rally on Saturday Feb. 20, 2021. The teachers said it has been difficult for students to learn online. (Samantha Laurey/ Special to SF Examiner)

Thank you to our educators, workers on an invisible frontline

By Dean Preston

Early on, the panic and uncertainty of the pandemic forced us to look at the bigger picture. We sheltered in place and cried watching videos of neighbors singing out of their windows, we banged pots and pans for frontline workers, nurses were our superheroes, we risked our lives to pass out food to those in need. San Franciscans came together, and the best of our City was on display.

A year later, as occurred during the Spanish Flu pandemic, it’s a challenge to maintain that spirit of unity, especially as COVID has surged every time we think things might get better. But as frustrated and exhausted as we are one year into the pandemic, it’s still on us as a community to stick together, and not to let tragedy turn us against each other.

When I learned that our Mayor and City Attorney were announcing a lawsuit against our own school district, I was reminded how fragile that spirit of unity can be, and how quickly leaders can shatter it. Our City is actually using litigation to force educators back to the classroom even if they are not vaccinated and regardless of the COVID tier. The announcement targets the very people who have been working so hard for struggling families during the pandemic.

I know how difficult this year has been for educators and for families with school aged children. Distance learning is incredibly challenging, exhausting, and unsatisfying. The lack of social interaction hurts. I’m a public-school parent myself. My kids haven’t seen most of their classmates in a year. I hear from parents daily who struggle to support their children’s learning and development while working themselves and trying to survive this pandemic with their physical and mental health, their homes, and some economic security.

It’s a terrible circumstance – one that educators and school staff, many of them parents themselves, have continued working through during the entire pandemic. I’ve seen how hard everyone is working in our public education system – underfunded and overburdened as ever – to completely reorganize and rearrange everything to try to meet the needs of children as best as they could under these extraordinary circumstances. Our educators were out there helping set up over 10,000 households with internet service and 30,000 free laptops and then getting parents up to speed with computer literacy. School staff were helping the district distribute five million breakfasts, lunches and dinners to families.

To the educators and school staff who have worked so hard in this pandemic, to the families who have overcome so much, to our amazing students across the City who have done their best through all this, and to our SFUSD leadership, I say thank you for your hard work in this impossible time.

We must not allow the school opening debate to be weaponized. The pandemic has put unimaginable strain on us all — especially students and families — but let’s not beat up on educators and their unions. Reflect on how hurtful this is to those who have dedicated their lives to caring for our children. The truth is none of us fully knows all the answers about how to navigate COVID, especially when it comes to variants and kids, and we need each other to get through this in a safe and responsible way.

We have dedicated educators and staff who have been shouldering far more than they should have to for years in a reality that expects public schools to fill every societal need while refusing to resource them. These workers are eager to get back to a safe classroom. This is a moment where they need our support and our trust, not our judgment and attacks. If anything, we should be banging our pots and pans for our hardworking educators.

Supervisor Dean Preston represents District 5.

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