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SF School Board Votes to Reopen Classrooms for All Students in the Fall

  • In a vote late Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Education approved a resolution to offer full-time, in-person instruction for all students in the fall

  • SFUSD is reopening a limited number of schools for younger students starting next week, but to date, had not set

  • The resolution was met with relief by families who have grown increasingly frustrated with the district over a lack of certainty

  • Kindergarten applications for the 2021-2022 school year dropped by about 10%, a sign that daily attendance could fall, thus jeopardizing the district's state funding

After a fraught few months for San Francisco public schoolsand for many families and children in the districtthe Board of Education approved a resolution late Tuesday to reopen classrooms for all students, five days a week, in the fall.

The resolution is the first time the school board committed to a reopening timeline for middle and high school students, and came up for a vote several hours into a Tuesday meeting and after scores of comments by parents frustrated by the lack of certainty around when their children would return to school. The board also rescinded an earlier, controversial decision to rename 44 schools in a process that was riddled with errors and inconsistencies, and later sparked a lawsuit.

"I beg all commissioners to approve [the reopening resolution," said one caller, identifying herself as a Hispanic mom of two SFUSD students. "I find myself wondering what would happen as a higher percentage of adults get vaccinated and we are asked to go back to work in person in the next few months. If...schools are not fully reopen for the fall, we find ourselves struggling and just looking for a solution that cannot be found in staying in the City."

The resolution, which was approved unanimously, holds that all grades will return in the fall at five days per week. Distance learning will remain an option, however, for families that opt to remain at home.

The school district is facing long-term challenges accelerated by the pandemic. A report circulated last month found that kindergarten applications dropped roughly 10% for the 2021-2022 school year. District-wide, applications for all grades fell to 13,917 from 14,468, equivalent to a 4% decline and indicating a possible drop in enrollment in future years.

The district's level of funding is dictated in part by average daily attendance, and if those numbers fall significantly, it could worsen an already-tenuous long term outlook for the district.

Both Fitch and Moody's downgraded the district's credit rating in recent months, citing subpar governance, waning enrollment and other liabilities. A lower credit rating makes issuing bonds more costly, and if the SFUSD's financial situation doesn't improve, the district could also be subject to stricter oversight by California's Department of Education.

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced this week that if COVID hospitalizations remain low and vaccines are widely available, the state will fully lift COVID sanctions and return largely to "business as usual."

Asked about schools, Newsom stopped short of mandating that classrooms reopen statewide in June, but said there would be "no barriers" to reopening schools and hinted at possible action by the legislature to ensure that they do.

"You will be hearing more about our efforts," Newsom said.

Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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