Uncertainty as to whether SFUSD, OUSD will meet April 1 reopening deadline to take advantage of $6.6 billion bill

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- California public schools could tap into $6.6 billion from the Legislature if they return to in-person instruction by April 1, according to a new agreement announced on Monday between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state's legislative leaders.

"We want schools to safely reopen. Period, full stop. I've been saying this for months," said Newsom. "We believe the data and the science bear that out. We believe what the CDC has been saying, we believe what Dr. Fauci has been saying, and President Biden."

But at this point, it's unclear if the financial incentive is enough to get school districts, like San Francisco and Oakland Unified, which are still bargaining with the teachers unions, to open by April 1.

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"Once an agreement has been made between the union and the district, it still takes five weeks for students to see the inside of the classroom," said Clifford Yee, a SFUSD parent, and parent and teacher organizer.

Yee says his first-grade daughter, like many students, has Zoom fatigue. He's working with other San Francisco parents to put pressure on district leaders to open schools for learning this spring, summer, and fall.

"I want to remain hopeful, I know bargaining has been going on for months," he said.

"The union will be protecting and defending our safety," said Amy Burns, a special education teacher at Skyline High School in Oakland.

While Burns has had one of two vaccine shots, she said she won't feel ready to return to school until safety measures are secured.

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"Making sure we're going to have distancing, that we're going to have PPE with masks, making sure there's testing, there's screening," Burns added. "Sad to say in Oakland, a lot of classrooms don't have windows. So a real point concern would be about ventilation."

California counties are divided up into different coronavirus infection level tiers.

Officials said to be eligible for the new funds, school districts in regions that fall under the state's most restrictive level -- the purple tier -- must return to in-person instruction at least through second grade. Districts must also have in-person instruction for at-risk populations of students in all grades.

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Districts in the next highest tier -- the red tier -- must return to in-person instruction for all elementary school grades, plus at least one grade in middle and high school.

To get the money, districts must meet the requirements by March 31. Beginning April 1, for every instructional day school districts do not meet the requirements, the amount of money they are eligible to receive will go down by 1%, according to officials.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond addressed reopening on ABC7 News at 4 on Monday. He suggested it could have happened sooner.

"You know unfortunately a number of districts for whatever reason have never pursued the waivers that would have allowed some schools to be open, even in the small cohorts in purple tier," Thurmond said. "And at the same time I would say a lot of debate about whether it was safe enough to open and there's no one to blame other than COVID itself."

Marin started opening schools in the fall.

"By mid-March, I'm anticipating that 100% of the public, private, independent, and parochial schools in Marin will open for at least some in-person instruction," said Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke, who expects Marin to receive $35 million because of SB86.

Burke said she encourages school districts to take that first reopening step.

"At this point, we have over a million in-person days with just 11 cases of in-school transmission. So we have the data to show that were able to operate school safely for both the adults and the kids," she said.

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