San Francisco legislators denounce efforts by school district to grab COVID funding

As I described earlier this month, a law put in place by state lawmakers offered millions of dollars in incentives to schools that reopened for classroom instruction before the end of the year. The goal was to encourage school districts to push unions to get onboard with reopening in order to take advantage of the funding. But San Francisco’s school board, in combination with teacher’s unions, decided they would try to claim $12 million of that money based on what amounted to a scam.

The school board recently announced that seniors could return for one or two days a week for the remainder of the year. However, only a couple of high schools would be open (meaning most kids wouldn’t attend their own schools) and no teaching would take place during these gatherings. Instead, students would treat it as a kind of study hall or a place to discuss their future plans with other students.

Today, three of the legislators who created the funding bill wrote a letter arguing that this is not at all what they had in mind. The letter reads in part:

We plainly see that the SFUSD plan, which only offers a select few high school seniors to return before May 15th, is a poor attempt to exploit a perceived legal loophole. Additionally, the intent of AB 86 was that a reopening plan would be proposed and fully implemented before May 15, 2021….

We did not intend for some pupils to be merely informed of when they may see the inside of a classroom, a teacher, and their peers, on some future date. Our intent, and the letter of the law, states that every student in that grade shall be offered the opportunity to return to school no later than May 15, 2021…

We ask you to ensure that these loopholes, which are intended to skirt these funding guidelines, are not allowed. We need accountability of and responsibility from our school districts now more than ever.

The San Francisco Chronicle calls this a “stunning rebuke.”

The push to withhold extra funding for the district, is a stunning rebuke for school officials from their hometown legislators. For SFUSD, its the latest setback in a string of controversies and lawsuits as the districts navigates how quickly to bring students and teachers back to the classroom.

Currently, fewer than half of all students district-wide are receiving at least some in-person instruction, angering many parents whose children have been stuck in distance learning for more than a year.

Ting has been critical of the district for its slow reopening and is pushing hard for a full reopening in the fall, which the school board has pledged to do.

“This money was used to incentivize reopening, and clearly, the district cared more about getting the money than actually bringing back children into the classroom,” Ting told The Chronicle. “We have to send a strong message that we expect them to be fully open in the fall.”

There hasn’t been any response to the letter from state officials yet. Hopefully this is a situation where hearing directly from the lawmakers will have an impact. The whole point of AB 86 was to get kids back to classrooms for actual leaning, something San Francisco failed to do. It’s really a shame lawmakers didn’t pass a law penalizing school districts a million dollars for every week they remained closed past the first week of March. Rewarding the district and the union for trying to pull this stunt would be an outrage.

In any case, KTVU 2 reports that almost no one returned. They waited outside one of the high schools students where invited back for two hours and didn’t see a single senior leave the building. One student they did speak to for this report told them it would be a waste of time since he’d have to take time away from actual instruction and homework in order to drive to the school for what amounts to a social hour.

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