I wanted to focus this month’s column on amplifying the struggles of families and their children throughout the district and the city during this endless Covid-19 pandemic. The shutdown has highlighted deep inequities in our society, especially in our education and childcare systems. We should all be worried about how this pandemic is impacting our kids.
Back in April, my office organized a meeting with all the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) school social workers and family liaisons working on the front lines with families in District 3 schools. The stories relayed of parents battling isolation, the digital divide, food insecurity, inadequate health care and a lack of culturally competent communication from the school district was heartbreaking. Last month, SFUSD confirmed that schools will begin the school year with distance learning and, with the predictions of a fall surge of Covid cases, we can assume that distance learning will continue until at least the end of the calendar year. Given SFUSD’s flat-footed rollout of distance learning last semester and lack of preparation for this semester, here are some requests I’m hearing from parents and teachers for all of us to think about and make happen:
Announcements were made in March that SFUSD would be partnering with Comcast to provide personal WiFi hotspots in high-need neighborhoods, as well as Chromebooks. Months later, the maps of confirmed deployments are still not public and many parents complained they were notified of their allotted Chromebook pick-ups only the day before for locations outside of their neighborhood. Principals have also complained that the district’s technology plan changes day to day and it’s impossible to communicate clear and consistent messages to parents. This is unacceptable. The communities at Francisco and Marina Middle Schools and Gordon J. Lau, Edwin and Anita Lee, Jean Parker, John Yehall Chin, Spring Valley, Redding, and Tenderloin Elementary Schools need tailored and consistent technology plans and a commitment that they will continue through shelter in place, regardless of what decisions SFUSD makes later. The city has continually offered to help with resources because we must work together to keep our families and children connected during this intensely rough patch. In this richest of cities, kids should not be competing for learning time with other siblings and parents working from home, let alone without access to technology at all.
NEEDS ASSESSMENTS AND CLEAR COMMUNICATION
When SFUSD announced town halls to elicit feedback from the community last month, Chinese families and Latinx parents in my district were given a robocall and a newsletter blast to let them know a week and a half before the meeting. They were told they would need to utilize three apps simultaneously to access the presentation from the school board president and the superintendent: Zoom, YouTube, and a new app, Thought Exchange, which SFUSD was still working on a tutorial for the day before the Chinese-language town hall. One of the single biggest concerns that I’m hearing is the lack of culturally competent outreach and consistent communication. As SFUSD tailors distance learning by age group, they must also tailor learning by need, including language access, family constraints, and preexisting learning challenges — even if that means doing a one-on-one assessment with every single family during this challenging time.
COMMITMENT TO CATCH UP
Just like the community has fought for summer school and afterschool programming to combat learning loss, SFUSD leadership must work with teachers and the city to implement year-round learning so students of all learning levels can catch up.
CREATIVE REPURPOSING OF THE PUBLIC REALM
While we’ve had success with shared spaces programming to enable struggling small businesses to partially reopen, public space must be reimagined with youth and children in mind, especially with playgrounds and many daycares closed. At public sites like Joe DiMaggio Playground and Francisco Middle School, SFUSD and the city must work together to reimagine possibilities for outdoor recreation and outdoor learning. I’m also pushing for our libraries to reinstate a schedule for curbside checkout of books so that children have options to learn offline.
LISTEN TO TEACHERS
If you didn’t already recognize that teachers are undervalued and underpaid, Covid-19 should be a wake-up call on the critical role of schools in our community. On top of educating our children, schools provide meals, therapy, and social and physical development for our children, food pantries for families, and are the primary frontline for mandatory reporters who protect our children. Many teachers have expressed fear and anxiety about returning to school without the proper safety protocols and protections in place, particularly with vulnerable family members at home. The United Educators of San Francisco teachers’ union will soon release its own recommendations, and SFUSD should work with them to implement its recommendations.
INVEST IN OUR SCHOOLS: VOTE IN NOVEMBER
There will be two measures on our ballot that are critical to the success of our schools. The Schools and Communities First Act will reform California’s Proposition 13 loophole that has allowed corporations to forgo paying upward of $12 billion a year to our underfunded public schools. In addition, here in San Francisco we will try again to pass a parcel tax to pay our teachers a living wage. Finally, four seats are open on the San Francisco School Board and you will have a chance to challenge candidates to be the strongest advocates they can for our kids. I have endorsed Kevine Boggess, a longtime organizer at Coleman Advocates for Youth and a parent, who knows firsthand what families are dealing with on the ground — and who will fight to champion them.