Safely Reopening SF Schools
California parents are eager to get their children back into the classroom – and thanks to Assembly Bill (AB) 86, more students will return for in-person learning this month.
Last December, I introduced AB-10 to require public schools to reopen under most circumstances during the pandemic when infection rates drop. I am proud that this bill paved the way for AB-86. Signed into law last month, the bill encourages public schools to return younger students and others especially vulnerable to learning loss, such as English language learners, students with special needs, homeless youth, and foster children, to the classroom. Ideally, older students will follow as COVID-19 infection rates decrease and schools adapt to this new normal. A total of $6.6 billion is available to school districts, giving them the resources to reopen safely and support learning recovery.
In order to receive a portion of the $2 billion reserved to expedite the return to in-person instruction, school districts must reopen certain schools by the end of March, a goal that the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has not reached. Specifically, a district must allow all TK-5 students to return to school in addition to one grade of middle or high school. This is in addition to providing classroom instruction for students especially vulnerable to learning loss. According to the California Department of Education, SFUSD stands to lose out on an estimated $174,670 per day beginning on April 5, until these populations of students are back in school.
It is disappointing that SFUSD, where my children attend, hasn’t taken the steps to qualify for reopening funds under AB-86. San Francisco has some of California’s lowest infection rates, but our reopening timeline lags behind larger school districts like Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified, when their COVID-19 case rates are higher. SFUSD will open on April 12 for limited in-person learning for preschool through second grade, special education, and vulnerable older groups.
On April 19 and April 26, some third through fifth grades will reopen, along with more in-person learning for preschool through second grade. Currently, there are no plans for reopening middle and high schools, as SFUSD states it is focusing on summer learning to mitigate learning loss and a full return to in-person learning in August.
Unfortunately, distance learning has disproportionately affected low-income students and others at risk of being left behind. Achievement gaps that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic have been exacerbated by the fact that many private and parochial schools returned to in-person instruction months ago, while public school students wait. Public school students in San Francisco deserve a chance to succeed and learn in the classroom.
Science supports reopening classrooms. Study after study has shown that there have been very few COVID-19 outbreaks in reopened schools. There are practices that can be implemented to allow for in-person learning without risking infection. Parents and staff interested in resources to help with reopening can visit the State of California’s Safe Schools for All hub at https://schools.covid19.ca.gov/.
Even after the passing of AB-86, there is more work to be done. Distance learning is only authorized through June 30, so we will consider whether it should continue next year. While special circumstances, such as compromised immune systems of teachers and students, should be considered, we must commit to getting schools in San Francisco and across California back to their main mission – provide education in a safe environment so that our children can reach their full potential.
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.