By reducing the distance

Last week, SFUSD re-enrolled 6,056 of our youngest elementary school students. The children were greeted with balloon parades, welcome signs, masked cheers from families and school staff, and tears of relief and happiness. Would her friends remember her? Was your teacher tall or short? What would your classroom look like? The big moment these children and their families had been waiting for over a year had finally arrived.

Now, just a week after part-school for our youngest learners, we already have clear, powerful takeaways.

The mental health effects were immediate and positive.

“After studying from home for over a year, the class was excited to return to the classroom beyond the year,” says Jessica Wallack-Cohen of her eight-year-old second grader. Cohen later videotaped her daughter on bicycles after her first day. Parent Chanel Blackwell said, “Our fourth grader woke up at dawn and got ready. First in line behind his teacher going to class. Tears in my eyes filmed everything from a distance on camera as he walked through those doors. Next up will be his teenage brother. [Let’s] Keep putting pressure on BOE so he can return safely in person! This she-bear brought down a cub, one more! “

This is great news for kids who already have health benefits. It also means that all children still have time to have the experience, including middle and high school students, even as time is ticking. For those who have wondered if it is worth returning to school for just a few weeks, the answer is a resounding YES.

The message from the recent SFUSD polls is clear: families now mostly want to return – regardless of race / ethnicity, language path and economic status. For the youngest cohort, who returned last week, the majority of African American (~ 70%), Asian (~ 50%), Hispanic / Latin American (~ 70%), and White (~ 85%) families planned to attend in person significant increase compared to the survey results from last autumn. These numbers are particularly noteworthy as the school district has cut school hours and days for most students and denied pre-school and post-school care at school locations, making the school’s logistics harder than ever for working families.

The Board of Education is committed to fully reopening schools to all students five days a week through the first day of the 2021-2022 school year. As we celebrate the return of some children to their classrooms this week, we ask the Board of Directors and SFUSD staff, as well as our political representatives in Sacramento, to consider what needs to happen in the days, weeks, and months ahead of this pledge. We cannot emphasize enough the catastrophic erosion of trust in our school district and government that gripped parenting communities over the past year. Therefore, more than ever, planning for the next school year needs to be proactive, clear and participatory for parents, students, teachers and staff.

Some of the key questions that need to be clearly answered by our Education Council, State Legislation, and the Governor in the coming weeks:

What is the definition of full time school? Over the past year there has been an alarming erosion of full-time schools in San Francisco and across the state. Families need clarity as to whether our political leadership will restore the teaching protocol to pre-pandemic levels and whether lawmakers will ensure that zooming in on a room can never be counted as “personal learning” again.

Is temporary distance learning offered to the medically ill and other students with exceptional educational needs from individual class teachers? It is unrealistic to expect classroom teachers to teach in person and distance students, and it is of no use to anyone. There has to be a better way – one that actually puts the student at the center and doesn’t ask teachers to be in two places at the same time.

How will SFUSD embrace and redouble its efforts to support the students hardest hit by school closings? This includes students with IEPs who have been without their federally mandated personal study accommodation for over a year, as well as students who will bring back significant trauma.

What are the school health guidelines for the next school year? For example, will pre- and aftercare at school locations be finally restored?

The past year has been a time of tremendous challenges and changes, and kids, parents, and teachers have felt that bittersweet weight heavily over the past week when they returned to the classroom. There is so much joy, but also so much very real frustration and fear. More than ever, public school families in San Francisco need steady hands and transparent, participatory processes that will help us restore confidence in a system that our children have so badly failed in the past year. Our schools may reopen, but much remains to be done to restore what our children lost in the past year.

Decinging the Distance is a collective of more than 4,000 parents, carers, and teachers of SFUSD students who are committed to equitable educational solutions, including the safe reopening of our public schools

Bay Area NewseducationPoliticssan Francisco News

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Learn more at