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SFUSD Draws More Criticism Over Plan to Bring High School Seniors Back

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High school students sit on chairs behind tables facing a teacher, who stands.
Students in class at San Francisco International High School in March 2017. (Deb Svoboda/KQED)

Some San Francisco high school seniors are urging the school district to expand its plan to allow only a fraction of them to return to in-person classes for the last three weeks of the school year.

Out of some 4,000 seniors set to graduate in June, the San Francisco Unified School District plans to bring back 565 into actual classrooms beginning Friday. Those students will start a hybrid schedule and "most will participate in at least three days of in-person learning before the school year ends on June 2," the district said in a press release Wednesday.

The plan will give students "the opportunity to connect with peers in person at schools with a focus on end of school year activities related to their well-being, academic support, and preparing for college and careers," the district said.

However, a slide presentation on the plan shown at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting said students would return for "at least one day." Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Enikia Ford-Morthel said at the meeting that, "Planning is happening" at "about" three days.

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Seniors at eight campuses can come back to their own schools; others will go to "host sites" they don't normally attend, according to the district.

But some students say they missed a district survey in which they could choose to return.

"I didn’t realize it was mandatory," said Francheska Privalova, speaking at Tuesday night's board meeting. "I don’t understand how I can't have an extension or there’s not something I can do. How am I unable to say goodbye just because I missed a survey deadline?"

Justine Orgel, a senior at Lowell High School, said she only found information about the chance to physically attend school on social media, but never saw the actual survey.

District leaders say they won't be able to open in-person school to more seniors because they're still trying to figure out how to accommodate the ones already slated to return.

Some parents at Tuesday night's board meeting opined that the district is offering only a token number of in-school days for the sole purpose of qualifying for state funds meant to incentivize reopening. The district's slideshow presentation made reference to the extra money and the criteria for receiving it.

The San Francisco Chronicle put it this way on Wednesday:

In what some are calling a blatant money grab, the deal between the district and teachers union will bring seniors back “for at least one day before the end of the school year,” so the city’s public schools could qualify for $12 million in state reopening funds. ...

There was no effort until recent weeks to bring back another secondary grade, given that the district had already set a reopening plan prior to the state announcing requirements for the grant funding, said district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

But with $12 million on the line, district officials and the union scrambled to find a way to get the cash.

Also not impressed with the plan, which was first announced by the San Francisco teachers union, is state Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat:

Echoing Wiener's concern was state Assemblymember Phil Ting, another Democrat, who represents a good chunk of the city:

The school district has yet to reply for a request for comment.

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