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No Return Date Yet For San Francisco Schools; District, Unions Still Far Apart

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- As the one-year mark approaches since the last time San Francisco public school children were in class, it appears the school district and the teachers union are not any closer to agreeing on a plan to open up classrooms.

The United Educators of San Francisco teachers union is calling for a mediator to step in.

"I'm really frustrated. I'm hurting. My heart hurts for my kids every day. Keeping kids out of school can't be our answer to stop the spread of the virus," said San Francisco resident and parent Lillian Archer.

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) held a Zoom news conference Tuesday to update the progress toward an agreement with the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) union and indicated both sides have very different proposals for in-person teaching.

The SFUSD says its board will vote Tuesday on a plan to reopen, but without a labor agreement in place, kids will continue to stay home with no date set yet to return to the classroom.

"We don't have a date set for a variety of reasons," said Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Enikia Ford Morthel. "We cannot predict staff, in the first wave of schools, will be able to get the vaccine. We can't predict when SF will be in the red or orange tiers. And we cannot predict we'll be bargaining with our labor partners. That said, I think all of us want the babies back in person as soon as possible, and so we continue to plan so that when that it's able to happen, that it happens."

The teachers' union has agreed to go back to school with vaccinations while in the state's Purple Tier, or without vaccinations if the state is in the Orange Tier. The district wants fewer, but full days of in-person learning, while the union wants more half-days.

"We don't want to just offer half-days," said SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews said Tuesday. "We know that transitions are hard, we want consistency and a full day for our students."

In a video statement, members of the UESF said the union was "quickly losing confidence in the Superintendent and the District to manage this negotiating process and are calling for a trusted mediator to intervene so we can keep this process moving forward."

There are the proposals for transitional kindergarten through 2nd grade.

For schools that can accommodate in-person demand, SFUSD is pushing for 5 hours of in-person instruction per day, 5 days a week, totaling 25 hours.

SFUSD says the majority of schools will fall under this category according to their survey.

The teachers union is proposing 3 hours of in-person per day, 4 days a week, 1 day distance, which would include 2 hours of live remote instruction for a total of 14 hours of both in-person and remote instruction.

"We know that we do much better with in person which is why we want our students in person as much as possible," said Superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District Vince Matthews.

For schools with more requests than can be accommodated, SFUSD's proposal is a hybrid model with 5 hours a day of in-person instruction 2 days per week, and 3 days of distance learning with at least 2 hours of live remote instruction per day totaling 16 hours of instruction per week.

The Teachers Union is proposing four half days of in-person learning per week with 1 day of distance; totaling 14 hours of both in-person and remote instruction.

"We don't want to just offer half days. Transitions are hard and we want consistency full day," said Matthews.

"At this point, we believe there needs to be a trusted mediator to intervene, as we have lost confidence in the Superintendent to manage this process," said United Educators of San Francisco President Susan Solomon.

SFUSD officials have previously stated its goal is to implement at least 6 weeks of in-person learning for elementary school students. They also say it's likely middle and high schoolers won't be inside classrooms this academic year.

Public schools in the city closed last March 13, and they were cleared by California health department guidelines to reopen September 21. The ongoing delays in reopening have prompted the city to sue the district and request an emergency order to compel the district towards reopening.

The district has delayed a vote on that until Tuesday at 3 p.m., with the agenda moved up at the request of parents, some who are now demanding the recall of school board members in their effort to get their children back into schools.

Last Friday, one group of parents launched a recall effort of the School Board President Gabriela Lopez and board members Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga.

The board recently tabled a much-criticized effort to rename dozens of city schools which opponents said detracted from the effort to reopen schools for in-class learning.

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