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San Francisco schools to reopen starting April 12 under deal

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco school officials plan to reopen classrooms for some of the youngest students beginning April 12 under a tentative deal reached with the teachers union, according to a newspaper report.

The agreement was announced late Friday after months of debate over how and when kids would return to in-person instruction as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations decline statewide.

San Francisco Unified School District officials said in a statement that they reached the arrangement with the teachers union to “return as many students as possible in focal groups to nearly a full school day, 5 days a week," the Chronicle reported.

Those groups are primarily preschool through fifth grade, although the district said 24 of 64 elementary schools will definitely reopen in April, the newspaper said. It’s still unclear how many of the district’s 52,000 students will return before the term ends June 2.

The school board still needs to vote on the deal.

Officials have said it’s highly unlikely middle and high school students will go back to classrooms this year. District representatives declined to comment on the deal before a Monday news conference.

Susan Solomon, president of United Educators of San Francisco, said in a statement that the agreement "is the product of months of adapting and reimagining what a return to in-person instruction for educators, students, and families in a large urban district could look like in a pandemic.”

Across San Francisco Bay, Oakland students could also start heading back to classrooms within weeks, starting with the youngest children and most at-risk students across all grades, the Chronicle reported. The goal is to reopen the first schools by mid- to late March, according to a letter Oakland Unified School District sent to families last week.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed into law a plan that allows California’s public schools to tap into a $2 billion fund to try and incentivize districts to reopen classrooms by the end of March.

The law does not require school districts to resume in-person instruction. Instead, the state is dangling the money before cash-strapped school boards, offering them a share only if they start offering in-person instruction by month’s end. The rest of the money the state recently set aside for schools, $4.6 billion, would go toward helping students catch up.

In California, the new law has attracted bipartisan support and scorn in equal measure, with the Democratic governor and lawmakers saying it marked an important step forward but was far from perfect.

Teachers from some of the biggest districts have come out against it, saying schools can’t reopen until infection rates drop and enough educators have been vaccinated.

While California businesses have opened and closed through the ups and downs of the pandemic, many school boards have not been willing to return students to classrooms as they have struggled with the costs to implement safety standards and negotiations with teachers unions.

But as the rate of new coronavirus cases continues to fall and more people are getting vaccinated, politicians and parents have been pressuring districts to return to in-person learning before the end of the school year.

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