Press Release: SFUSD and Labor Unions fail to meet yet another deadline to safely reopen schools

For Immediate Release                                                        
February 18, 2021 

SFUSD and Labor Unions fail to meet yet another deadline to safely reopen schools

Community leaders join families in an urgent plea to reopen schools as students and families join together at “Zoom-In mornings” to increase visibility of what learning looks like for San Francisco children, nearly one year into school closures

For SFUSD parents and students, every day is groundhog day. Today marks the 342nd day since the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has provided in person instruction, and the second deadline for a union agreement that has come and gone. 

Two weeks ago, a group of parents, students, teachers, health experts, city and state leaders came together to announce a citywide petition to urge San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Labor Leaders and Board of Education Commissioners to come to an agreement to reopen schools. San Francisco’s 50,000 school children have been experiencing the negative effects of distance learning for far too long. Thousands of San Franciscans have signed the petition, including organizations and individuals such as Compass Family Services, Gina Fromer CEO of Children’s Council of San Francisco, and Mimi Haas, community volunteer. 

Sherilyn Adams, Executive Director of Larkin Street Youth Services, also signed. “As the Executive Director of San Francisco’s largest nonprofit provider for young people experiencing homelessness, it is clear that we are on the precipice of another looming crisis — an explosion in young adult homelessness,” she said. “There are hundreds of high school students that are not participating in their distance learning classes right now. The single biggest predictor of youth homelessness is an interruption in schooling, and the failure to graduate or get a GED. If we don’t quickly get these students back in a classroom, we should expect to see a rise in homelessness.” 

SFUSD first failed to reach agreement with labor unions in December, calling off the first phase of reopening that was set to begin January 25th. Most recently, the District announced a goal to reach agreement by February 18th. While the District and United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) announced a tentative agreement, the deal has yet to be ratified by union members or approved by the Board of Education. 

The details of the tentative deal leave more questions than answers, and both opportunities for parents to learn about the tentative agreement – a UESF town hall and the Board of Education meeting on 2/16 – were postponed. From what we have seen in public statements from SFUSD and UESF, the tentative agreement far exceeds federal, state and county guidance about when it is safe to return to the classroom. The agreement does not allow for normal class sizes in stable cohorts, in accordance with recently updated guidance. The instructional agreement under negotiation at first included the possibility of only “two mornings per week” of in-person instructional time, through July 2022 (the entire next school year). It still fails to include details about the return of all students, TK-12.

“Modern brain science tells us that learning – for young children especially – happens primarily through in-person play and interaction. We have been proud to work during the pandemic to hold up our many child care providers who have stepped up and stayed open to ensure this critical learning environment is there for our youngest and most vulnerable children,” said Gina Fromer, CEO of Children’s Council of San Francisco — an organization that supports 20,000 families and 2,000 educators every year. “Unfortunately, for children and youth who have been unable to attend school, developmental delays that will result from this extended time period of distance learning – despite herculean efforts at implementation by our educator community – will impact children for the rest of their lives.” 

Frustrated with the lack of information and progress, parents around the city are arranging for their children to join together at “Zoom-In mornings” to show what learning looks like for San Francisco children. At the first Zoom-In morning today, students and families from Clarendon ELementary and neighboring schools met at Mission Terrace Park to participate in distance learning in plain view of the public. Future “Zoom-ins” will be held on Friday, February 19th adjacent to Miraloma elementary, Monday the 22nd in Dolores Park, Tuesday the 23rd at Alice Fong Yu, and Wednesday the 24th at Duboce Park (current schedule here). 

“It’s an opportunity for us to make visible what has gone invisible to many for almost a year now,” said parent Viviane Safrin of two children at Clarendon elementary school. “We are bringing our children out to be seen– so our city can be reminded that our children depend on us grown-ups to figure this out for them.”

According to the recently released CDC guidance, San Francisco is the only top metro in the orange tier in which the CDC indicates that it is safe to reopen schools for all students K-12. As seen in the chart, San Francisco stands out both for its low COVID-19 transmission rate, and failure to operate any in person learning. New York, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Washington DC, Miami, PHiladelphia, Atlanta and Boston are all well ahead in reopening in person learning, despite higher COVID-19 rates. 

Today there are over 100 private and parochial schools with over 15,000 students in San Francisco open for daily in-person instruction. There have been no outbreaks. The City has stepped in to run 80 Community Learning Hubs, which have been offering in-person support to over 2,000 students for months. There have been no outbreaks. Public schools in Marin and Napa are open. Marin County has had schools open for three months, teaching 17,000 students. There have been no outbreaks. 

The health and safety of children, teachers and staff is paramount. When we put on our masks and sanitize our hands, we do so because science tells us this is the best way to protect ourselves and our communities. Likewise, our actions around school reopenings must be guided by science.  That we can open schools safely NOW, is not our opinion — it is a scientific fact endorsed by the CDC. It is past time for an agreement that returns our children and teachers to the classroom.          

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