Andrew Libson, the Mission High physics teacher who was investigated for teaching students how to make circuits in Dolores Park, was issued a counseling memo on Monday — a measure amounting to little more than a warning.
Though he does not plan to host another in-person event with his students, he’ll be collaborating with a group of Mission parents this weekend to teach more children about circuits.
In a letter to Libson, Mission High principal Pirette McKamey invoked a San Francisco health order against gatherings involving more than three different households, which she said he had violated.
Libson’s March 29 outdoor learning event over spring break involved 11 students and some of their family members; he led them in an activity about circuits, with Covid safety protocols enforced. The event was entirely optional for students, and students were required to get the consent of their parents before attending.
McKamey added that district policy requires teachers to exercise “good judgement” when interacting with the community, and that by hosting an outdoor event, Libson had not modeled safe behavior.
“At a time when it is incumbent upon all of us to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and follow the directives of our public health officials, you have exercised poor judgement in choosing to disregard these directives,” she wrote.
McKamey declined to comment on how the decision to issue the memo was reached.
Libson said he was relieved that the response was on the lighter end of the spectrum and will not be added to his permanent file, though he wished the school district and McKamey would have supported him in his endeavor. He also acknowledged that the event may have technically violated city health directives, though he said such a criticism was “very nitpicky.”
“Look, this wasn’t like we did this as some sort of party,” he said. “This was an event families felt was educationally necessary for their kids in the context of this last year; it’s been a wipeout for them, in terms of feeling isolated and alone.”
Libson said he believes more educators should be reaching out to students, if they feel comfortable doing so.
In fact, he will be running a similar event on circuits for a group of Latinx parents from the Mission and about 12 kids on Saturday, May 1, commemorating International Workers’ Day. He also said he had run his plans by McKamey and said he had gotten a response that he took as a “yes,” given that it would be a private gathering not involving his students.
“In all honesty, I think I would have done it either way,” he added.
McKamey wrote in an email that she does not have the authority to grant nor deny permission for an employee to host a non-student gathering.
Dheyanira Calahorrano, who organizes the group of families gathering in Dolores Park to attend SFUSD Zoom sessions, said she got in contact with Libson after reading the Mission Local article. She’s hoping to run outdoor activities on Saturdays going forward, and Libson will be teaching at the inaugural one, which will be followed by time for the children to play and do arts and crafts.
“My son is completely done with Zoom; he hates it, but he is really, really waiting for Saturday,” she said. “He loves working with his hands.”
Calahorrano is not the only one who has come out in support of Libson: News of the investigation quickly drew widespread blowback on social media from community members. Parents have also reached out to him to propose setting up a GoFundMe and a set of students were ready to draft a petition, according to Libson.
“The work I hope to do with families and teachers is preserving and putting forward the idea of in-person education,” he said. “I’m afraid of what’s happening to education, much more than I’m afraid of this virus.”