Educators react to San Francisco mayor's timeline for reopening of schools

On the heels of San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s announcement yesterday that she wants to see students back in the classrooms for in-person learning as soon as the end of this month, representatives for the city’s school district, teachers union, and private school administrators had mixed reactions. 

Breed explained why she believes students need in-person instruction.

"Especially those students who may not have parents or grandparents or family support to help them in their lessons. Even when we provide them with devices and internet service, they are still falling further behind," Breed said. "We know how vital it is, that kids have access to people who are able to help them with their lesson plans. 

Under the mayor's suggested timeline, the youngest students, TK through 6th grade would return to class as soon as the end of this month. Breed admitted, however, that she cannot mandate schools re-open.

The president of United Educators of San Francisco, the union that represents San Francisco teachers, said she was surprised by the mayor's suggestion for students to return to class by the end of the month.

"I feel like that is unlikely," Susan Solomon said. "Although we are absolutely willing to talk to the district."

Solomon said teachers and staff at San Francisco Unified District schools want to make sure they have enough PPE, regular testing, and screening protocols for COVID-19, as well as improved ventilation in classrooms before they return to classrooms for in-person instruction.

"It would be scary and disappointing if we opened prematurely and had to close the schools again because we had a spike in cases. I am, personally, very worried about that and I think I speak for a lot of other educators and parents as well," she said.

Under the California Department of Public Health's newly released guidelines, counties that are in the "Red" or lesser risk tier can allow for some in-person instruction if they remain in the red-tier for at least 14 days.  

Solomon said more research needs to be done to determine what is safe.

"Some of the guidelines have shifted over the last several months," she said. "We need to hear from several experts to find out what is really true."

More than 50 private and charter schools in San Francisco have already submitted waiver applications to the San Francisco Department of Public Health to re-open for limited, in-person instruction.

"We are ready to open as soon as they allow us," said Benjamin Harrison, Director of Operations for Adda Clevenger School, an independent, private K-8 school in San Francisco.

His school submitted their waiver application this week, which included a plan to keep students socially distanced and rooms and surfaces regularly cleaned. Adda Clevenger has about 130 students. Harrison said the school is utilizing outdoor spaces and re-purposing rooms to keep kids in smaller, stable groups.

"In the auditorium, where the kids would normally eat lunch, that's been repurposed for dance classes, so they can spread out quite a bit," he said.

For a large, public school district, like San Francisco Unified, which has 54,000 students, it is more challenging to make those types of changes quickly. 

"Opening to 54,000 students at 120 schools is not going to happen in the next few months, potentially, but what we hope will happen, is that we will find a way to start to bring back those students who are currently the least served," said Gentle Blythe, Deputy Superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District. 

Blythe explained that the district would need to begin negotiations on a new labor agreement with the teachers union about in-class instruction. She said those discussions will begin in the coming weeks, but that "We are not able to commit to a specific timeline right now" about when SFUSD students will be back in class.

"At the same time, we're doing our best to make sure distance learning is still much better this fall," Blythe said. "We really want to hear from families and students about how their experience has been so far."