As San Francisco public schools remain closed with distance learning still in place nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic first began, a group of parents and students on Thursday held a demonstration to protest the continued closures.
The 9:30 a.m. demonstration, or “Zoom-in,” was organized by the group Decreasing the Distance, which is calling on San Francisco Unified School District officials to reopen schools and return to in-person learning.
During the “Zoom-in,” more than two dozen parents and students gathered at Midtown Terrace Playground, just across from Clarendon Elementary School.
Decreasing the Distance member Viviane Safrin helped organize Thursday’s event. Safrin is also a parent to two SFUSD elementary school students.
“They (students) spend so much time in isolation or at home without their peers, so there’s a quality of invisibleness to their experience,” Safrin said. “We see how much they’re suffering in this endless distancing learning.”
As part of the demonstration, the students all sat down outside and simultaneously logged into their online distance learning classes.
“What was amazing was that it was quiet. We very much respect our teachers we appreciate and recognize how above and beyond they’ve gone to keep the students engaged,” Safrin said.
Safrin said she’s witnessed first-hand the effects long-term distance learning has had on children.
“They don’t have the same motivation as before. They often don’t want to go outside. We’re not meant to exist in such isolation,” she said.
In addition to groups like Decreasing the Distance, city leaders like Mayor London Breed and City Attorney Dennis Herrera have also called on district leaders and the Board of Education to open schools as soon as possible, even going as far as requesting a court order to compel the district and board to come up with a plan to reopen.
According to the school district, plans to reopen are underway, with at least six elementary schools now ready to open after having recently been inspected by the city’s Department of Public Health. Additionally, a tentative agreement recently reached between the district and unions representing teachers and other SFUSD staff over in-person learning health and safety standards is set to be ratified at next Tuesday’s Board of Education’s meeting.
Although the pandemic is ongoing and ever-changing, most of the city’s private and parochial schools have already reopened for in-person learning, which, according to Safrin, has been a source of frustration for both parents and students.
“It’s heartbreaking, because how can children be expected to understand that some grown-ups can make it work and others can’t find a way. They walk by the independent schools, they see them playing on yards or in their uniforms and they ask ‘Why can they go to schools and we can’t?’ and there’s really no correct answer.”
Decreasing the Distance is planning to hold more demonstrations in the coming days, with another planned Friday near Miraloma Elementary School and then another one on Monday at Dolores Park. Also, a Zoom-in is being organized for Tuesday near Alice Fong Yu Alternative School, and then on Wednesday, a Zoom-in is being planned at Duboce Park.