Chairman of the Board of Directors, Shamann Walton, acted as a facilitator in the negotiations between the public school district and the teachers’ union over personal tuition.

Walton took over the role Thursday after United Educators of San Francisco requested a mediator on Tuesday after losing confidence in the district leadership to negotiate, the auditor learned. The UESF and the San Francisco Unified School District had expected to reach an agreement on face-to-face tuition after five days of intense negotiations last week, but remain at odds after talks resumed Tuesday.

“The President of the Supervisory Board, Shamann Walton, has agreed to mediate and came to us yesterday and today,” the UESF wrote to its members late on Friday afternoon. “We’re meeting again tomorrow all day and we are determined to move this forward. However, mediation is a slow process and we will keep you updated on any agreement or outcome as soon as possible.”

Walton, who was previously a school board member, was not immediately available for comment.

Disagreements are about what personal lesson plans should look like based on your needs. SFUSD employees estimated Tuesday that 25 elementary school locations, about a third, would need a hybrid model due to high demand and social distancing requirements. California’s public health guidelines require schools to keep desks six feet, or at least four feet, apart after good faith efforts have been made.

SFUSD estimated that most classrooms under these guidelines would have enough space for 14 students and that it would have a nationwide capacity of 15,000 seats per day. To cater to any student whose parents wish to return in person, the district suggests two full days per week for high demand schools, while the UESF suggests four half days per week.

“We are determined to reopen as many schools as possible for personal teaching,” said SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews earlier this week. “Our goal was and is to maximize the daily in-person tuition for the students and to remain as consistent as possible by welcoming the students back to the school they are enrolled in.”

Little has changed in a week and numerous press conferences or statements on the matter, held in response to parents’ demands for transparency, may have undermined progress in the negotiations.

SFUSD and UESF reached an agreement last week on the assessments required for special education students, which the school board ratified Tuesday. The district will establish an assessment center at John O’Connell High School that can be opened when San Francisco reaches the red level.

The school board also approved health and safety agreements that would be made with all unions to return in person once San Francisco hits red with vaccines or orange without vaccines.

SFUSD bases its projections for requirements on surveys conducted in December that 81 percent of families completed. Approximately 13 percent of the classrooms with priority students, junior grades, and students with moderate and severe disabilities had more than 14 students opting for face-to-face learning.

Preferences varied by demographics and school location, but overall, 57 percent, or up to 7,000 students who responded, planned to return from February 22nd. The answers on the school location ranged from 17 to 86 percent of families who want to send students back.

Of those planning to return, 29 percent said they would consider moving to another location, and 59 percent said they would consider changing teachers if necessary.

Personal preferences are highest among white families (80 percent), non-English learners (62 percent), and students of Japanese and Korean language pathways (74 percent and 83 percent, respectively). Asian families (36 percent), Filipino students (41 percent), Cantonese bilingual program students (19 percent), and socioeconomically disadvantaged students (48 percent) were less likely to choose face-to-face learning.

SFUSD estimates that it will take five weeks to reopen for priority groups once key indicators are hit, including a drop in coronavirus levels in San Francisco, availability of tests and vaccinations, and working arrangements. Mayor London Breed said the city could go from purple, the most restrictive tier in the state, to red by next week.

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