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SF School Board Approves Safety Agreement Amid Recall Effort, Lawsuit

  • The San Francisco Board of Education approved a health and safety MOU between SFUSD and educators' unions, which dictates that schools will reopen if the City enters the 'orange' tier, or if staff are given vaccines in the 'red' tier

  • The MOU does not establish schedules or other key terms for a reopening of in-person instruction for SFUSD's more than 50,000 students

  • City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who sued SFUSD and the school board to force a swifter reopening, said in a recent letter that any agreement that conditions reopening schools on staff vaccinations could be challenged in court

Under fire from frustrated parents and the City Attorney, members of the San Francisco Board of Education voted to approve a memorandum of understanding regarding safety conditions around the reopening of in-person instruction for some students.

The agreements between SFUSD and local teacher's unions, which were published online earlier, dictate that educators will return for in-person instruction if one of the following two conditions occurs: San Francisco enters the 'red' risk tier and staff have access to vaccines, the City enters the orange Tier. California is expected to place San Francisco into the red tier in the coming days.

The agreements dictate only health and safety-related protocols, and do not set schedules or other key terms of a return to in-person learning for the district's more than 50,000 students. In a statement this week, United Educators of San Francisco called for a "trusted mediator" to shepherd negotiations, saying it was "losing confidence in the Superintendent and the District to manage this negotiating process."

The district is planning to offer in-person instruction five days a week to students in a high-priority group dubbed "2A Wave 1," which includes young children with special needs, and amounts to 358 students. However, the district has not yet proposed specific schedules for other student populations. SFUSD said previously that it's unlikely that middle and high school students will return for in-person learning this school year.

"I do think its really important for our families to understand that we’ve haven’t forgotten about our secondary students," said board member Jenny Lam, adding that the district should "be looking at a full return of [transitional kindergarten through grade 12] in the fall."

The approval of the health and safety agreement, which occurred nearly seven hours into Tuesday's board meeting, may not stave off a recent lawsuit by City Attorney Dennis Herrera that could force a swifter reopening of in-person instruction.

That lawsuit, which names SFUSD, the school board and Superintendent Vincent Matthews, was filed earlier this month and later expanded to include constitutional violations. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of violating a state law requiring a clear description of school reopening plans, and of violating students’ constitutional rights to an education regardless of income or circumstances.

Herrera filed a motion for an emergency court order that, if approved, would require public schools to offer in-person instruction "to the greatest extent possible." A hearing for that motion is set for March 22.

The legal filings note that some of the conditions named in the tentative reopening plans, such as mandatory staff vaccinations, do not line up with the guidance of scientists and public health experts. In a Feb. 18 letter, Herrera said that any reopening agreement that mandates vaccines for educators would be challenged in court.

“To what extent, and under what conditions in- person instruction is 'possible' during a pandemic is a health and safety decision that rests with public health officials, not with individual school districts or their workforce," Herrera wrote.

Meanwhile, three separate efforts have formed in recent days to either recall members of the school board or restructure the body entirely.

One such effort, called The Campaign for Better Public Schools, is exploring options to change how the school board is run, including a potential amendment to the City’s charter to eliminate school board elections in favor of appointed roles. That effort was launched by the Families for San Francisco, a political action committee focused on improving public schools.

Another effort, launched by a group of public school parents, is seeking to recall board president Gabriela Lopez and members Faauuga Moliga and Alison Collins, each of whom are up for re-election in 2022.

Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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