Working to Reopen Our Schools
By Assemblymember Phil Ting
As a parent of two children in public schools, I worry students are falling behind in their studies as we continue relying solely on remote learning. Additionally, the longer they don’t see their friends and teachers in person, the more social isolation will impact development and emotional intelligence.
These concerns spurred me to introduce Assembly Bill (AB) 10 on the first day of our legislative session in December. AB-10 would require school districts to have a safe reopening plan in place by March 1, 2021. After that date, when a district’s county enters the state’s red, orange or yellow tiers, my bill mandates the plan be implemented within two weeks.
The bill sets a clear timeline for when in-person instruction begins while following public health guidelines. Districts can still decide which in-person model best fits their student and workforce needs, including a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.
Schools in other states and countries have prioritized reopening and have shown it can be done safely. Some private schools in San Francisco have been open for months and have yet to see outbreaks. Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of Medicine at UCSF, has said schools are safer than once thought, particularly for kids ages 5-12 who don’t spread or carry the virus like teens or adults do.
At the same time, a recent American Medical Association study found learning loss experienced by elementary students in the first three months of the pandemic could shorten their life span, collectively resulting in more than five million fewer cumulative years of life. We can’t let that happen.
Last month, the three members of the San Francisco legislative delegation sent letters to six superintendents in our districts urging them to prioritize safe reopening. We understand that they share this goal. The state has already allocated resources through the budget and other legislation, including two months of PPE and cleaning supplies for all schools as well as a centralized contract for districts to purchase materials moving forward; additionally, all health plans are required to cover COVID-19 testing for essential workers and all those exhibiting a symptom. We are also working on longer-term issues like ventilation; my AB-841, which went into effect Jan. 1, directs heretofore unspent funds to a grant program for schools to repair and replace HVAC systems.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has already issued guidance on how to get students and teachers back in the classroom safely. It’s based on the color-coded system that tracks daily metrics of COVID-19 cases:
• Purple: No currently closed public or private school can reopen, but those teaching grades K-6 or providing instruction to a small cohort can get a waiver;
• Red: Reopening possible once the county has remained in this tier for 14 days;
• Orange/Yellow: May reopen immediately, unless the county has stricter rules.
The schools that have reopened using these guidelines have primarily been private, disproportionately affecting low-income students and worsening achievement gaps. After years of progress improving the quality of public education, I can’t let those students fall behind when there are proven ways to safely resume in-person learning. President-elect Joe Biden has also vowed to reopen most schools within his first 100 days.
You can support AB-10 by signing the petition at a19.asmdc.org; tell your friends and family in other parts of the state to call or email their state legislators to express support. When counties emerge from the purple tier and regional stay-at-home orders are lifted, we must ensure our kids can go back to school and grow up in a post-pandemic world having successfully navigated their formative years under extraordinary circumstances. Join me in calling for SFUSD schools to open, safely.
Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the west side of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma and Daly City. He lives in the Sunset District. He can be reached at (415) 557-2312 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and updates, visit https://a19.asmdc.org.