McKinley Elementary School in San Francisco, one of the schools in the San Francisco Unified School District. (Photo courtesy Doug Belshaw/Flickr)

San Francisco Unified School District officials on Tuesday unveiled their latest proposal to reopen the district’s elementary schools for in-person learning as the district continues to hammer out the details with labor unions.

The district has been negotiating with unions like the United Educators of San Francisco, among others, for months on how to safely return students and staff back to school in phases, starting with some elementary schools.

Under the district’s latest plan, elementary schools that can accommodate small cohorts per classroom would reopen for in-person instruction as part of the first phase, for a full day, five days a week.

“Our goal has and continues to be to maximize daily in-person instruction for students and to maintain as much consistency as possible by welcoming students back to the school in which they are enrolled,” Superintendent Vincent Matthews said during a virtual briefing.

Also under the district’s plan, students at schools that can’t accommodate small cohorts would instead be offered a hybrid schedule, consisting of 2 days of in-person instruction and 3 days of distance learning per week. Each classroom would also employ two teachers, one for in-person learning and another for live distance instruction.

“We know that there will definitely be schools that have more requests for in-person instruction than we can accommodate, because we definitely want to maintain the social distancing of 6 feet apart during in-person instruction and many of our schools are only so big and only have so many rooms and oftentimes can only accommodate about 14 students per classroom to meet that 6 feet criteria,” Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Enikia Ford-Morthel said.

“By having this type of schedule, we know it’s not ideal, but it allows us to see more students in person and rotate so that they all have access to in-person instruction,” she said.

The district’s plan also gives families the option to fully remain in distance learning, sticking to the five-day weekly distance learning schedule already in place.

The district’s plan differs from the UESF’s proposed plan, which consists of 4 half days of in-person instruction and 1 day of distance learning per week.

According to Matthews, UESF’s plan for half days would only result in 3 hours of in-person instruction four days a week, and students and families would spend a considerable part of the school day shuffling to and from school.

“We don’t want to offer just half days. We know that transitions are hard. We want consistency and a full day for our students,” he said. “We will continue to meet with UESF to consult on the schedule and hope to have more news to share with families soon. I know many families are anxiously awaiting clarity and we’re working to get there.”

Matthews also called a lawsuit filed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera earlier this month, alleging the current plan to reopen schools is inadequate and doesn’t meet California guidelines, a distraction.

“The city attorney’s lawsuit doesn’t impact our planning whatsoever. We’ve been working and planning to bring back our students and we want to bring back as many students as possible for as many days as possible for as long a day as possible. This is well before the city attorney filed the lawsuit and we continue to do so after he filed it. The lawsuit is a distraction from our work to bring back students for in-person learning,” he said.

So far, the San Francisco Department of Public Health has completed health inspections at six schools, approving them for reopening.

But, because schools reopening rely on several other factors, including when teachers can get vaccines and whether the city will go down to the red or orange tier of the state’s reopening guidelines, the district hasn’t yet announced a proposed date for reopening schools.