In San Francisco Parents’ wildest dreams: A progressive city WITH an excellent public school system

A piece originally published on Medium.

It has been easy to feel invisible as a parent in San Francisco during COVID-19. Schools and playgrounds closed, support systems vanished, and yet we were expected to show up for work, pay our rent, support our kids through distance learning. While daunting, organizing the logistics of life without school were nothing compared to the exhaustion borne from the constant negotiation of COVID-19 safety protocols, the reality of needing to provide for our families, all while helping our kids learn and grow and thrive despite the world around them.

Decreasing the Distance was formed in the summer of 2020 when we realized San Francisco Unified School District wasn’t centering the needs of parents and students in their decisions about whether and how to reopen schools. We found each other on social media, commenting in disbelief during the marathon Board of Education meetings in the summer and fall of 2020 when reopening wasn’t even an item on their agenda. We asked our friends and our communities how they were feeling and heard a cascade of devastating stories about children failing to thrive academically, mentally and physically and parents foregoing work to stay home who couldn’t pay their rent. We heard about children whose special education services were ripped away during the most critical time in their brain development. But, the most common thing we heard was the nearly universal concern that SFUSD wasn’t listening to parents.

In just a few months, our group grew from 100 parents to more than 1,000, with members from more than 80 schools in SFUSD. We now have 4,000 newsletter subscribers, more than 1,400 in our private Facebook forum for active parents and supporters, and more than 1,400 Twitter followers (@sf_dtd → @sfparents).

We have advocated for the safe reopening of our schools since Fall of 2020, when the science became clear that schools could and should reopen safely, and our district made no moves in that direction. We have worked on outdoor education plans, helped families improve distance learning, fought for equitable fundraising across school sites, and pushed for wrap-around holistic supports for students. All of our issues are rooted in the grassroots concerns of our supporters and fueled by a tsunami of parent volunteer leaders.

As school reopens for the 2021–2022 school year, we know with certainty that our work together is just beginning. We are excited to share that Decreasing the Distance has evolved into the San Francisco Parent Coalition (SF Parents). Two years of fighting for our kids taught us something: there has been an enormous void of parent advocacy in San Francisco, and our voices are desperately needed.

SF Parents will center the needs of children and youth in San Francisco public schools by bringing together a diverse network of parents to advocate for a thriving, equitable school system. We envision a future where San Francisco is one of the best places in the country for children and youth of all races, socioeconomic backgrounds and abilities to grow up and get an excellent public education.

We know the work ahead won’t be easy. As the “new kids” in this *very* political town, we’ve been called every name in the book — astroturfers, privatizers, white elitists, republicans. And you know what? We aren’t afraid.

There was nothing progressive about keeping our public schools closed and being one of the last major US metropolitan school districts to reopen. If San Francisco is going to be a bastion of progressive values, an example to the world, having underperforming schools is unacceptable, period.

SF Parents is majority BIPOC- and LGBTQ-led. We started by listening to families and communities hardest hit by COVID. Our families are from neighborhoods across the city, representing diverse backgrounds and experiences.

SF Parents is pressing forward because a school district representing its families and students best cannot be wholly owned/directed by one single interest; the deeply troubling data on student literacy rates and other basic academic outcomes for the last decade bears out that painful lesson. Parents (and students!) need a voice. And this Board of Education needs a major reset.

Join us today! We share frequent actions with our network of parents and supporters, everything from meeting with elected officials to planning demonstrations, and helping draft policy statements. Visit to find ways to engage.

Each challenge as a parent is unique and often humbling. When we are lucky, we have a community to fall back on. In 2020 we built this community together. We can’t wait for this next chapter as SF Parents.