Is the Board of Education Capable of Focusing on Education?
By Lori Dietrich
When I think about the San Francisco Board of Education (SFBOE), I get so overwhelmed with emotion that I don’t even know how to express myself. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was supportive of the Board’s work. At the time, I appreciated how cautious they were, but as time went on, Spring turned to Summer and I realized nothing had been done to get our kids – even the youngest and most vulnerable – into the classroom.
I watched every Board meeting, and the message was always to “look at the dashboard.” Well, the dashboard didn’t move and we did not have a plan to reopen schools. I grew more and more frustrated. It was only when the Board was sued by the City that they felt the fire to do their assigned job.
Even now it is only elementary school students that will have some classes; for my son’s school, grades K-3 are five days a week, and grades 4-5 are only two days. Middle and High Schools have no consideration for even a hybrid schedule and as a result are continuing to experience learning loss, or as some members of our school board like to call it, learning change. Over a year into the pandemic, maybe 20% of students will be able to return to a version of in-person learning.
One thing I found shocking was that SFBOE, which claims their focus is on equity and justice, did not take into consideration that most parents are working. Since most schools are not offering full-day coverage, working parents are on their own for how to pick up these young students, plus find and pay for care after school.
With all the recent back slapping at the SFBOE meetings on this partial return, I have very little faith that they will actually have in-person instruction come August for ALL students that will also work for the many working families in San Francisco. My son is now in fifth grade, and will have 12 days of in-person instruction this academic year. Meanwhile, private school students (all grades) have been inside a classroom since the Fall. Does anyone else see the inequality here?
I’m also appalled that educating our students (particularly in-person education during a pandemic year) is not the SFBOE’s primary goal and focus. According to the Board’s Mission and Vision statement, the first priority is access and equity. Although admirable, their stalling and lack of a plan for returning to classrooms, while continuing to spend money on renaming of schools, was infuriating for parents as we see our neighbors who are in private schools returning to in-person learning.
Not prioritizing children getting back in the classroom accomplishes the opposite of promoting access and equity. This exacerbates the inequity that we see in our schools today and it will make it worse for years to come. Already, SFUSD has poor educational outcomes for our students of color, most notably Black and Latino students. This achievement gap ranks among the highest in California. Our schools are not providing a quality education for those who need it most.
Even during “normal times,” most San Francisco residents are not necessarily tracking all of the visions and policies of those running for the SFBOE. Now that we have seen what we need because of the disaster in leadership through an unprecedented time, parents realize what they need to review as their priorities for a BOE member.
The Board’s number one and only goal should be about education for our students, but it seems they are just looking to further their political careers. It is disheartening to see a former BOE commissioner only spend one term on the board, then run for Board of Supervisors. The Board of Education shouldn’t be a stepping stone for San Francisco politicians. This is the reason why many parents and families would support the BOE not being an elected position – in order to end the politicking.
I am supporting the Better SF Public Schools campaign, in hopes that we can create long-standing, positive change for our public schools.
Lori Dietrich, Richmond District resident, public school parent and full-time working mom