7% of SF Unified upper-grade students return to class; some say it's not enough

A small group of middle and high school students will be allowed back on campus in the San Francisco Unified School District on Monday.

There are about 2,000  middle and high school students returning to campus after more than 400 days of distance learning, which is only about 7 percent of all of the district's middle and high school students.

Some of those upper-grade students were welcomed back at San Francisco International High School in Potrero Hill by the school's superintendent and school board president.

Senior Litza Padilla said she was grateful and relieved to be back, "to feel connected to the school, to learn a little more because it's not the same thing to be doing online classes, than being in-person."

The 2,000 students invited to return include those 6th through 12th grade who have been identified as having "severe difficulties with distance learning," as well as foster youth, English-as-a-second-language students, students in public housing and unhoused students.

School Board President Gabriela Lopez said the goal was "to prioritize the students who are needing in-person learning the most."

But several parents were critical of the return of so few students. The 4,000-member parent reopening group, Decreasing The Distance, called the reopening plan disappointing.

"These are the kids who should have been in school all along this year," said Meredith Willa Dodson of Decreasing the Distance. "Right now, with what we know about the virus and what we know public health experts say we can do safely, we could be bringing back all middle and high schoolers back right now. "

There is still no plan or timeline to bring back all middle and high school students at SFUSD.

Elementary students returned to campuses, earlier this month.

Some of the students coming back to campus will have to continue doing distance learning on campus because about 500 educators in San Francisco have received medical waivers to continue teaching from home.

"That's the case for many of these middle and high schoolers coming back, today," said Willa Dodson. "Many of them will be coming back, not to their live teachers, but to be taught by their teacher through a device, through their screen."

When asked if he was having a difficult time getting staff to return to teach in-person, San Francisco School Superintendent Vincent Matthews said, "I don't think it's having trouble getting staff back. As I said, health and safety is the number one priority."

Matthews said he wasn't sure whether teachers would be allowed to apply for medical waivers in the fall, even after being vaccinated.

"We just don't know what fall is going to look like, what the accommodations method will be. We're basically taking it day by day, just like everybody else in the country," he said. 

Of the 25 largest cities and public, urban school districts in the nation, San Francisco is the last to bring back middle and high school students to campuses for in-person learning.

Matthews and Lopez both said that the plan is to have all students back, full-time in the fall, promising that is what they are working toward.