Public Schools Take Steps Toward Reopening

San Francisco Unified School District and teachers unions have reached a tentative agreement, and the state is beginning to flex its muscles.

For parents of young children, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Last week, teachers union officials and the San Francisco Unified School District reached an agreement on reopening protocols. Students in Kindergarten through second grade, as well as students with disabilities, can return to classrooms once the city is in red tier, and the teacher is vaccinated. Once the city reaches orange tier, students can go back to in-person learning with a teacher who is not yet vaccinated. 

San Francisco will be in red tier starting Wednesday, although the specific timeline for reopening classrooms remains unclear, as the School District and union leaders continue to negotiate the length of the school day. 

Recent developments in Sacramento could speed that process, however. On Monday, top Democrats in the state legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom agreed to a bill that will tie $2 billion in funding to school reopening. Districts in purple tier must reopen for K-2nd grade by April 1 in order to receive their full share of the funds — otherwise, the funds will decrease with each passing school day. For counties in the red tier or better, the law would require all elementary school grades to resume in-person learning, as well as at least one grade of middle or high school, and special needs classes, in order to receive the funds. 

The proposed state law does not require school districts to resume in-person learning, and leaves the door open for continued negotiation between teachers unions and school districts. However, it would appear to create a sense of urgency around reopening schools, and greater leverage for school districts. 

But on Tuesday, SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews told KPIX that “the Governor’s announcement does not change our timeline because there are still many steps we need to take to get there and many of those aren’t able to be expedited, even with financial incentives. Make no mistake,” he added, “we share the urgency to offer in-person instruction as many students as soon as possible and more resources will help. We are getting closer each day.” 

Another Sacramento decree has ramped up teacher vaccinations. Last week, Gov. Newsom promised to allocate 75,000 vaccines per week, or about 10 percent of the state’s supply, specifically for teachers. On Thursday and Friday, the Oakland Coliseum mass vaccination site will host a vaccine drive for teachers. 

The push to get students back in classrooms comes as local and state leaders are taking serious heat on school reopening. Opponents of Gavin Newsom, who may have to stand for reelection later this year in a recall vote, have made school reopening one of their core criticisms. Meanwhile, three San Francisco School Board members are facing their own recall campaign for their handling of school reopening, as well as their decision to rename 44 schools. 

A group of San Francisco parents called Decreasing the Distance has held a series of rallies at shuttered schools throughout the city in recent days, calling for kids to return to classrooms as soon as possible. Their efforts are supported by a lawsuit against the School District from City Attorney Dennis Herrera, with the backing of Mayor London Breed, aimed at resuming in-person learning. The suit cites the fact that 15,800 private school students in San Francisco have been back in classrooms for months, with just five cases of in-school transmission reported.

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