Twelve San Francisco public schools will not reopen in January as planned as the district has yet to reach a deal with labor unions over COVID-19 safety measures, the San Francisco Unified School District announced Friday.
In-person learning was slated to resume Jan. 25, for preschoolers, kindergarteners and first-graders as well as students in special education and deaf and hard of hearing programs.
Additional schools were slated to reopen in phases.
The plan marked the first time San Francisco students would have returned to classrooms since the district first shuttered schools when the pandemic began in March.
District officials have been in talks with the labor unions representing SFUSD employees since September to hammer out health and safety protocols.
Earlier this week, the unions, which include the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 among others, presented the latest proposed health and safety criteria.
They cited concerns about resuming in-person learning just as the city and state experience an unprecedented rise in COVID-19 cases.
Some of the latest demands included detailed health and safety plans per federal, state and local guidelines; a joint health and safety meet and confer with all SFUSD unions; robust testing of students and staff as well as contact tracing protocols; personal protective equipment at schools; and free rapid testing for anyone exhibiting symptoms.
District officials said the district can’t meet all of the demands, and there isn’t enough time to finish bargaining by the proposed reopening date.
“This pandemic has required us to live with a great deal of uncertainty and it’s simply not over yet,” said SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews in a statement. “I am disappointed that we cannot offer a guaranteed date for when we can resume in person learning for our youngest and most vulnerable students. We will continue to work hard to offer a safe and in-person learning opportunity to our students and will meet as much as possible with our labor partners to complete bargaining.”
Mayor London Breed expressed frustration over the January reopening date being pushed back indefinitely.
“It is infuriating that our schools are not going to reopen for in-person learning in January,” she said. “We should not be creating a false choice between education and a safe return to classrooms. As a society, we have a responsibility to educate our children, and safety is embedded in that responsibility. We can do both. We must do both.”
She added, “We can’t create unrealistic standards for in-person learning that aren’t even recommended by the Department of Public Health. I understand the concerns of some of our teachers who are in the vulnerable population, and we should listen to them. But let’s be honest: San Francisco’s public health officials have been among the most conservative in the country in terms of reopening.”
Breed pointed to the fact that there have been no outbreaks at any of the city’s 78 community learning hubs, which have provided distance learning support to 2,000 students since September, or at the private schools that have already reopened.
Breed also argued that although the city is currently experiencing a surge, moving forward with the reopening plan now would allow schools to be ready to reopen immediately when state officials permit it.
In a statement, UESF officials said, “The district is putting blame on teachers and workers for not reopening schools. We cannot allow the government, the private sector, nor the district to divide us. Families and educators have to stay united. We cannot allow schools to reopen without ensuring that all the necessary safety measures have been established.”