The San Francisco Unified School District took a major step Saturday toward reopening schools by reaching a tentative agreement with a group of labor unions on health and safety standards for in-person learning for students in all grades from preschool through high school.
The tentative agreement covers baseline health and safety standards, district and union representatives said, including the return of students to classrooms when the city and county have reached the red tier of California's Blueprint for a Safer Economy, as determined by the California Department of Public Health, and all staff members returning to schools or worksites "have had the opportunity (eligibility and access) to be vaccinated at the recommended dosage," the district said in an announcement.
Students could also return if the city and county reach the orange or any lower tier, "regardless of the availability of vaccines," the district said.
"I want to thank all of the district employees who have been working for months to get our schools ready so that we can return safely as soon as possible," district Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews said in a statement. "This agreement wouldn't have been possible without their efforts. I'm looking forward to opening our school doors for more staff to begin preparations to welcome students back."
Union leaders said that a number of aspects included in the tentative agreement were proposed by labor in December, including district support for vaccine prioritization, availability, and education for members; masks and PPE to be provided for students and staff; socially distanced classrooms and workspaces; regular testing for students and staff; health screenings; ventilation upgrades and monitoring; a "safe and effective" cleaning protocol; and a contact tracing and plan with the County Department of Public Health.
The availability of vaccine doses remains an issue.
"This agreement sets the stage to safely reopen schools in San Francisco. Now we need city and state officials to step up and make vaccines available to school staff now, while UESF continues to focus on finalizing agreements around classroom instruction, schedules, and continuing to improve remote learning for the students and families who choose not to return even with these standards in place," said Susan Solomon, President of United Educators of San Francisco.
Talks between the district and its unions began in September. On Wednesday the city announced it was filing a lawsuit seeking a court order to direct the district and Board of Education to come up with a plan to offer in-person learning as safely and as soon as possible.
"After being at the table consistently for months, we've known all along that the key to keeping our entire school community safe and mitigating transmission in a school setting would require multiple layers of protection to be in place, and we are confident this agreement does just that," said Caroline Satoda, president of the United Administrators of San Francisco and supervisor in the district's Professional Growth and Development Department.
"Skilled trades workers of the construction crafts stand ready to reopen learning sites safely and under the best possible conditions," said Rudy Gonzalez, SF Building & Construction Trades. "We remain clear-eyed about limitations due to underfunding, retention and staffing challenges, but nevertheless we see hope in this agreement. We look forward to support from our federal, state, and local leaders to help us realize learning environments and facilities that are worthy of our students."
The tentative agreement "does not address or resolve any negotiable impacts of the district's plan for hybrid instruction," the SFUSD said. "The district continues to meet with the United Educators of San Francisco to complete bargaining on the negotiable impacts of hybrid instruction."
"Given the constant shift during this pandemic it's important to do all we can for the health and safety of our students, families, staff and community. I am excited we have found common ground on these baseline standards with our unions, paving the way for our gradual reopening of schools," said San Francisco Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez.
The district said the tentative agreement will come before the Board of Education for ratification on Feb. 16.