SF school board accepts deal between district, teachers' union on COVID precautions needed to reopen

San Francisco's school board unanimously voted 7-0 Tuesday night to accept a deal between the district and employee unions, including United Educators of San Francisco teachers' union, over health and safety precautions needed to reopen schools. 

However, the details of scheduling in-person hours remain a point of contention that still need to be worked out. 

The agreement includes provisions that vaccines be provided for all staff, free COVID tests for all staff and students, mandatory screenings at all schools and a public dashboard that lists all COVID cases in the schools. 

Tuesday's much-anticipated meeting saw the board hearing hours of public comment and presentation into the night as they decided how they would vote on a return to in-person learning.

There is still no word on a timeline on the return to in-person instruction and the district says there are too many factors to predict when students will return.

But families are starting to get an idea of what in-person learning may look like.

San Francisco families once again held a Zoom in-- an outdoor protest against distance learning. Parents said their kids are suffering because they're not attending school in person.

"Our experience with distance learning has been challenging," said Lesley, the mother of a San Francisco student. "I think the learning volume is not there."

Now there is a glimmer of hope. 

"I know many families are anxiously awaiting clarity and we're working to get there," said Dr. Vincent Matthews, SFUSD superintendent.

The superintendent said the district has been pushing for as much in-person instruction as possible.

"Students would be able to return for five full days, five hours each day in schools with fewer requests for in-person learning," said Dr. Matthews. "Schools we're calling lower demand schools."

The district said it is pushing for the youngest students to return first; pre-K through 2nd grade, and students with special needs. The district said about 50 elementary schools would have enough space for five-day instruction. 25 schools would have to alternate two days of in-school and three days of distance learning. 

But the superintendent said the teachers' union rejects that plan. Matthews said under the union's plan, students would not receive more than three hours of in-person instruction each day. 

United Educators said their plan allows students to remain with their current teachers and cohorts. 

The district said for schools with a higher percentage of families wanting to return to in-person instruction, the schools simply cannot accommodate all of those kids in person, so they will have to split their time between online and in person learning.

"At these schools we will use a hybrid instructional schedule," said Enikia Ford-Morthel, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction. "And what that means is some of the babies will spend days in person and some of the babies will also spend days distance learning remotely."

The district is still not committing to a date certain for students to return to classrooms.

"We don't have a date set for a variety of reasons. We cannot predict when staff in the first wave of schools will be able to get the vaccine," said Ford-Morthel. "We can't predict when San Francisco will be in the red or orange tiers and we cannot predict when we will be completed in bargaining with our labor partners."

Earlier in the day, the teachers union released a statement that hints that the negotiations process may be hitting a rough patch, the statement read in part, "Teachers say they are pressing the district to move towards an agreement with more urgency. 'At this point, we believe there needs to be a trusted mediator to intervene, as we have lost confidence in the superintendent to manage this process.'"

The superintendent has not yet responded to the union's calls for a mediator. 

KTVU's Jana Katsuyama contributed to this story.