San Francisco's legislative delegation in Sacramento is calling out the SF School Board for their attempt to reap the benefits of a state funding program without actually complying with the spirit of the legislation that backed the program.
Assembly Bill 86 was signed into law back in March as an attempt by Governor Gavin Newsom and Democratic legislators to incentivize the reopening of schools in this school year. It required school districts in counties where there were fewer than 7 daily new COVID cases per 100,000 residents to offer in-person classes for all elementary school students and at least one grade of middle of high school by May 15, in exchange for a piece of the funding. As the LA Times noted at the time, the program still allowed for some discretion in districts where teachers' unions were resistant to returning to classrooms, and the requirements were still focused on the state's youngest students.
San Francisco Unified was eligible for $12 million, and the school board decided to meet the minimum requirements of the law by reopening elementary schools on April 12, and then bringing back high school seniors only — but not to the classroom. As noted earlier this month, the plan only brought some seniors back into schools before the deadline — seniors were invited back for a "hybrid schedule" beginning May 14, which was a Friday, and some might have only ended up seeing the insides of schools for three days before the school year ended. As the Chronicle reported, under the hybrid schedule, not all students were on campus all days of the week, so students who were not on the Friday schedule were still at home that day.
State auditors will have to decide if SF Unified met the requirements to receive the funding. But Assemblymember Phil Ting, who has been a vocal critic of the district as case counts have plummeted in SF and yet schools have remained shuttered.
"It was clear from the law that they needed to bring an entire grade back by May 15," he told the Chronicle, following the May 14 gambit. "Bringing an entire grade back meant everyone in that grade has an opportunity to go back by the deadline."
Now, Ting, along with Assemblymember David Chiu and Senator Scott Wiener, have penned a letter to the state superintendent of public instruction and the state controller's office urging them not to release the funds to the district.
As the Chronicle reports, the letter calls the plan to bring back a fraction of the senior class on May 14, and then the rest for just a few days after that, was a "poor attempt to exploit a perceived legal loophole."
And it seems that all this dragging of the district has a point — the legislators don't want to see SF Unified continue to offer remote learning in the fall, even if the teachers' union demands it.
"This money was used to incentivize reopening, and clearly, the district cared more about getting the money than actually bringing back children into the classroom," Ting tells the Chronicle. "We have to send a strong message that we expect them to be fully open in the fall."
On Monday, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that schools there would not be offering remote instruction in the fall, in a strong signal that that city expects to put the pandemic fully behind them in the coming months.