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San Francisco Looks to Reopen First Public Schools in January

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The San Francisco Unified School District took its first official step toward reopening in-person learning this week.

On Wednesday, the district submitted a letter of intent to the city Department of Public Health, asking for approval to reopen school buildings for elementary schools and preschoolers.

The letter proposes that 72 elementary schools open in three waves. First, students would return to six elementary schools as early as Jan. 25, followed by reopenings at 18 more as early as Feb. 8, and 48 more on or after March 22. The dates are subject to change, and the teacher's union must still agree to the plan.

The six schools the district has listed for the earliest, Jan. 25 opening are:

  • Alvarado
  • William Cobb
  • Glen Park
  • Lawton
  • John Muir
  • Sunset

“We must implement a phased approach to in-person learning because we know, given the need to adhere to social distancing and other safety guidelines, we will not be able to safely invite all students to return to school buildings at the same time,” said Board of Education President Mark Sanchez in a press release.

The plan is for schools to first reopen to kids in prekindergarten and special education classes. Then those same schools will open for students in transitional kindergarten to 2nd grade. The district will also prioritize homeless and foster youth students, and those who have shown the "lowest overall online engagement" in distance learning.

Parents will have the option of returning their kids to school, continuing with distance learning, or a hybrid. Students not in the initial priority groups will keep learning remotely.

The notice from San Francisco is the first step in obtaining required authorization from health officials to bring students back. The district must now submit its plan to reopen, specifying which school sites are included and how it will implement all health and safety measures recommended by the city's Department of Public Health, including masking, social distancing, ventilation and more. Before reopening, health officials would do a site visit to schools to confirm all requirements are in place.

The reopening plan, presented at this week's school board meeting, calls for cohorts of 14 students and two "supervising adults." Board Vice President Gabriela Lopez said the district still needs to work out how to balance on-site and hybrid learning for some students, while continuing all distance learning for others.

"The idea with hybrid learning is if we want to open up more seats and have capacity for more students, we will implement the hybrid model to be to be able to do that," Lopez said. "It does, though, lessen the amount of face-to-face interactions that our students will get. And so being able to balance the two is a part of the process of working with our educators."

SFUSD has created an online dashboard of the tasks that must be completed in order to reopen schools, including acquiring personal protective equipment and bargaining with labor groups.

'Sometimes It Feels That We're Being Blamed'

Susan Solomon, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, says teachers have two bargaining sessions next week on a health and safety agreement, and may need to concurrently bargain the hybrid instructional plan to try and meet a Jan. 25 reopening goal.

"This is really not good for kids, most kids are struggling and so are most families," Solomon said. "But I think what we're losing sight of sometimes is that we're in a pandemic and it's awful, its unpredictable and it's relentless."

Solomon pointed out that the last time the union polled teachers about returning to class, the city was in the state's yellow tier.

"Educators are not trying to stay away from their students because they don't want to teach them. Sometimes it feels that we're being blamed for not going back into school buildings," she said. She predicts one of the biggest hurdles to returning to in-person learning may prove to be infrastructure needs in getting all the school buildings ready.

The San Francisco District's letter of intent contains estimates of how many students and staff may return, but final numbers will depend on how many children choose to return, staff resources and space available.

Lopez said there is potential for a variety of options. "So we'll definitely see some teachers in person, and some teachers and students still doing distance learning," Lopez said.

District officials sent a questionnaire to families who'd be included in the first wave of reopening to determine their interest in returning. Families have been asked to indicate their preference by Friday.

—Julia McEvoy (@juliamcevoy1), Michelle Wiley (@MichelleEWiley), and Jon Brooks (jbrooksfoy)

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