• Tue. Apr 13th, 2021

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S.F. schools to reopen starting April 12 after union, SFUSD officials reach tentative deal – San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco school officials plan to reopen classrooms for in-person learning beginning on April 12, officials announced Friday night, after months of bitter debate over how and when students would return to in-person instruction.

Officials said they reached a tentative agreement with the teacher’s union to “return as many students as possible in focal groups to nearly a full school day, 5 days a week.” Those groups are primarily preschool through grade two, which is about 13,000 students.

See: List of SFUSD schools expected to reopen in April

The deal means at least some students will see the inside of a classroom before the end of the school year, though it’s unclear how many of the district’s 52,000 students will return before the term ends June 2. School district officials declined on Friday to provide more details about the tentative agreement, saying officials are planning to share more information on Monday.

“This is an important step on our path to reopening schools. We continue to be committed to ensuring every student and family in the San Francisco United School District is receiving the support they need,” Board President Gabriela López said in a statement. “Whether it be parents and caregivers trying their best to support their children, or teachers working nonstop to support learning during a pandemic. We’re all in this together.”

The deal comes after weeks of increasingly tense negotiations. The district and board have faced escalating pressure from parents and city officials to reopen schools — including a lawsuit, rallies and “Zoom ins” and possible recall — as worries over learning loss and rising mental health risks mounted.

Mayor London Breed had pushed hard to reopen the schools, criticizing the school board for renaming sites instead of focusing on struggling families and students. She also supported the lawsuit over reopening pushed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Jeevan Guha, 6, relaxes on the living room floor as he attends his Zoom class on Friday, January 26, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. Guha is a first grade student at West Portal Elementary School.
Jeevan Guha, 6, relaxes on the living room floor as he attends his Zoom class on Friday, January 26, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. Guha is a first grade student at West Portal Elementary School. “I hate Zoom because I like to see people in person. I don’t wanna be stuck at home all day. I wanna go outside and see my friends at school,” Guha said. However, Guha is happy that he’s been able to spend more time with family during the coronavirus pandemic.Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle

The district said that for those returning, “with few exceptions, elementary students will stay with their teacher.” Families that choose to stay in distance learning may do so.

It’s not clear if and when grades 3-5 will return and officials have said it’s highly unlikely middle and high school students will go back to classrooms this year. Still, at a board meeting this week, commissioners expressed interest in bringing back middle and high school students for social or athletic activities.

Many teachers had been fearful of returning without vaccinations even though experts said it was safe to do so with proper precautions. Still, this week the district sent 4,000 access codes to staff for vaccinations, smoothing the way for reopening. San Francisco Unified has about 4,600 teachers, as well as thousands of other school staff including teacher aides, counselors, office and cafeteria staff, and custodians.

“Today’s agreement is the product of months of adapting and reimagining what a return to in-person instruction for educators, students, and families in a large urban district could look like in a pandemic,” said teachers union President Susan Solomon in a statement. “Now we need the City and District to make good on their commitment to get school staff vaccinated ASAP.”

Meredith Willa Dodson, a parent who has been advocating with other parents for reopening schools told The Chronicle Friday night that families were still trying to understand what the tentative agreement means for all students in the school district. Dodson said she was fielding a “million texts” from other parents who were working to decipher the agreement, saying she feels “a bit incredulous.”

“There is excitement that this the most progress yet in a year, and also we’re still awaiting information, so it’s hard to get overly excited. Like, what does this deal mean?” Dodson said. “In San Francisco, we’re opening restaurants and opening indoor dining and we’re in the red tier. In a couple weeks it sounds like we’re going to be in the orange tier. We know we’ve done a really good job in the city with spread — we should be absolutely be prioritizing getting our children back into school.”

The district said the health department had approved the return of the first group of schools, includes five early education sites, six elementary schools and one county program.

District officials said in a separate statement Friday night that families in the first group of students to return can update their preference for virtual versus in person learning next week and that the next group of families with students in line to return will get surveyed March 9.

“We are enthusiastic to share this progress and we also know that some students and families who want to return will not be able to at this time,” Superintendent Vince Matthews said in a statement. “We recognize that distance learning is not ideal for most students and many families have struggled with a full year of distance learning. We truly wish we could reopen schools for everyone.”

This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.

Lauren Hernandez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: lauren.hernandez@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @ByLHernandez