By Shayna Gee
On January 28, San Francisco moved to reopen some activities, an announcement made shortly after Governor Newsom lifted a stay-at-home order, which had been in effect for two months in an attempt to curb holiday surges of COVID-19.
“Today marks an important turning point that I hope we can continue to build upon,” said Mayor London Breed.
The reopening takes place while the majority of counties, including San Francisco, are in the state’s purple tier, indicating “widespread” levels of COVID-19. The city’s reopening allows outdoor gatherings to resume including dining, personal care services, zoos, and more.
As school districts grapple with reopening, the educational equity gap is widening.
The School Reopening Data Map, from the San Francisco Covid-19 Response, shows that 72 San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) schools submitted letters of interests to the city, one out of the 7 steps required for approval towards reopening school doors. While no SFUSD schools have been approved yet, the same data map shows that 113 private and charter schools in San Francisco were granted approval, with many resuming classes indoors.
Out of more than 15,800 private and charter school students, only five cases of COVID-19 have been reported thus far, gleaming hope to city officials.
The debate between reopening public versus private schools comes at different costs, with the latter having more adequate access to health, economic, and academic resources. Smaller classrooms in private education allow for easier compliance with social distance guidelines when compared to SFUSD, who has almost four times the student population of San Francisco’s private and charters.
In early December, Coleman Advocates introduced Equity Framework for Reopening San Francisco Public Schools, an action letter to tackle the racial and educational gaps experienced by the hardest hit communities. “Black and Brown families in the southeast of San Francisco almost universally are struggling to have their basic needs met…,” the framework states, urging leaders and the Board of Education to implement their plan for bridging these gaps.
Similarly, The California Teachers Association provided their stance in a letter to the state legislature requesting that schools not be open or reopen at purple tier levels. Their letter acknowledges that schools are paramount in fostering community for marginalized students. However, they write, “Safety… should not be a relative or subjective term up to regional or political interpretation.”
With no requirement for teachers and students to get vaccines prior to teaching and COVID-19 cases at an all-time high, SFUSD labor unions have been pushing for safety standards from the school board.
On Dec. 15, labor unions shared new safety criterias for school district reopenings, derailing the district’s initial timeline of reopening on Jan. 25. The criteria requires the City and County to return in-person learning at orange tier, indicating “moderate” levels of COVID-19 for at least two weeks. The labor unions’ short notice requests demanded far greater safety levels required by the Department of Public Health. The failed deal between SFUSD and its labor union halted the reopening plan, drawing the attention of the mayor.
The day before Mayor Breed officiated the city’s reopening, SFUSD’s weekly Wednesday digest stated that in-person learning for most middle and high school students is unlikely.
Mayor Breed criticized the school district for prioritizing school name changes when there were no updates of a clear plan for getting students back into classrooms and the resources they need to catch up as a result of nearly 11 months of distance learning.
On Wednesday, Feb. 3, City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against SFUSD and the Board of Education in an urge to reopen. Herrera’s lawsuit claims the school district has not adopted a clear COVID-19 plan of reopening when possible, which is a violation of state law.
Instead of aiding SFUSD and the Board of Education, the city has decided to utilize force to get the school district to come out with a clear plan of bringing students into their classrooms with the support of Mayor Breed.
As several counties reopen their schools, San Francisco is feeling additional pressure to do the same, pursuing legal actions in their own public education system.