After a contentious few weeks on the subject, San Francisco school officials plan to reopen classrooms for in-person learning next month. Preschoolers and elementary students (through 2nd grade) will return first — though only about a third of SF elementary schools will initially reopen in April.
Between Zoom-in protests and ongoing public debate on the merits (and risks) of reopening schools, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) officials have finally settled on some semblance of a compromise. After a Friday evening meeting, SFUSD announced that in-person instructions would start returning next month.
SFUSD is on track to offer in-person learning options at a select number of schools for the District’s youngest students starting on April 12, 2021. We are excited to share this progress and we will be sharing more detailed information in the coming weeks. https://t.co/J8c56yGP0R pic.twitter.com/XeW7mew33u— SF public schools (@SFUnified) March 6, 2021
Per the Chronicle, 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.” According to that agreement, those groups returning to schools first will be primarily young children through grade two; only about 24 of 64 elementary schools will reopen in April, however.
"This is an important step on our path to reopening schools," San Francisco Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez said in a press release. "We continue to be committed to ensuring every student and family in the San Francisco United School District is receiving the support they need."
This update comes after both educators and food-service workers gained eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines last week — but those appointments still have been hard to get, as of late. Nevertheless: the district still is upholding its staff vaccination program as part of its agreement with labor unions, according to KTVU. The district said SFUSD has (as of publication) sent 4,000 personalized priority access codes to staff to be vaccinated.
"Whether it be parents and caregivers trying their best to support their children, or teachers working nonstop to support learning during a pandemic," Lopez continues. "We're all in this together."
Mind you: SFUSD has made it abundantly evident that distance learning will continue, in some shape and form, for the remainder of the school year, which ends in June. It's a reality that Superintendent Vincent Matthews made clear in a statement regarding SFUSD's decision to reopen classrooms.
“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,” 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.”
SFUSD will permit class sizes of up to 22 students per room for up to third grade; some semblances of distance learning will be maintained to meet both in-person and distance-only student demands; teachers, too, are expected to stay with their current classes.
This "hybrid style" of learning is also expected to last throughout the end of the year — and potentially into 2022, as some health experts still warn of pending waves of COVID-19 with new variants emerging around the world.
Regardless of hypotheticals and pontifications, San Francisco has made amazing strides in both combatting and recovering from the pandemic this year – not even a full twelve months since the Bay Area enacted its historic shelter-in-place ordinance.
“In San Francisco, we’re opening restaurants and opening indoor dining and we’re in the red tier," says Meredith Willa Dodson, a parent who has been advocating with other parents for reopening schools, to the Chronicle. "In a couple of 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.”
In April, California is expected to reopen large public venues like stadiums and amusement parks, capping capacity at 20% for the time being; Fauci has commented that there will be enough COVID-19 vaccines procured to inoculate all Americans by July.
Image: An aerial view of the empty schoolyard at Sunnyside Elementary School on March 18, 2020 in San Francisco, California. As millions of Americans shelter in place in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, schools across the country are being closed. Nearly 99 percent of the schools in California are currently closed and it is unclear if they will be able to reopen before the start of summer break. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)