For Ella Maoz, a student at Mission High, distance learning has left her senior year feeling inconclusive: No prom or goofing off with friends, no connections with teachers or an academic environment that inspires her to learn. “The only word I can think of to describe it is ‘depressing,’” she said.
But Maoz said the district’s recently unveiled plan to bring seniors back to school is not an answer. “Who are you helping? What problem is this meant to be solving?” she said. “This is not what we wanted, and this is not what we need.”
“This” — the deal the teachers union and the district are offering — is likely to be only one or two days per week, for a total of three or six days, an SFUSD spokesperson wrote in an email Monday. The limited days reflect the few days left in the official school year.
And, once there, face-to-face education appears unlikely, added the spokesperson. More probable is in-person “supervision” while completing activities such as college exploration and wellness support.
Plus, the seniors won’t be returning to the schools they know. Instead, students will be dispersed to “a select few high school host sites, probably not at a student’s regular school site.”
It’s a sobering update to the teachers union weekend announcement that the seniors would get to return to school.
The news that students may only return to schools for one day a week drew immediate backlash from families in the district.
Yvette Edwards, a lead parent with school reopening advocacy group Decreasing the Distance, said she’s heard from families that the return offer from the district is a non-starter.
While she is happy for families for whom the return offer will make a positive difference, she said that for many, anything less than a full return is frustrating, especially given the availability of vaccines and conditions in the city.
“They’re not elementary children — they see this for what it is very, very clearly,” she said. “The plan is too late for them, and it’s not robust enough to encourage many teenagers or families to return.”
It’s unclear how many students will choose to return, wrote SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnik, and more updates will be provided at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.
The planned return date for seniors, May 14, will also just barely qualify the city for $12 million in state school reopening funds, raising skepticism from community members about the motivation for reopening.
“It’s unusual timing,” Edwards said.
The state offered districts a total of $2 billion in grant funds for reopening, on the condition that they reopened in-person education for elementary school students and students in at least one middle- or high-school grade.
Schools could access the maximum amount of funding — $17 million for SFUSD — if they opened by April 1. For each day districts did not meet the minimum requirements, they lost 1 percent of the funding for which they were eligible, and would forfeit the entire amount if they did not meet the requirements by May 15.
Assemblyman Phil Ting, who sponsored the legislation, told The Chronicle that SFUSD’s reopening plan “definitely doesn’t meet the spirit of the law,” which was created with the goal of getting students back into schools for in-person learning.
For her part, Maoz, the senior, says she doubts she is going back if given the option. Instead, she’s looking forward to a fully in-person freshman year at Emerson College in Boston, where she plans to study creative writing.
“I was really upset for the first half of the year, but you reach a point where you’re like, ‘Whatever, we’re never going to go back, why don’t we just give up?’” she said. “We’ve lost so much this year that it’s hard to get excited.”