What will distance learning look like? Here's what's happening with SFUSD

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco Unified School District announced it will start its fall semester with all-distance learning on Aug. 17. Of course, there are plenty of questions to go along with this announcement, so ABC7's Kristen Sze talked with the San Francisco Board of Education President Mark Sanchez on ABC7's 3 p.m. show "Getting Answers."

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What was the deciding factor?

Science, Sanchez said. "Even if we wanted to go back to in-person learning we wouldn't be able to because of the health department's order."

Is the focus only on distance-learning?

No. Sanchez said they are simultaneously working on a "parallel track" to have a plan to bring students back, starting with a hybrid-model. He says they will prioritize their most vulnerable students, along with younger students, to return first. The ultimate goal is some teaching at school and some teaching at home.

Is there enough time to let teachers effectively prepare?

Sanchez pointed out that he's a 4th grade teacher in Daly City, so he is going through this as well. "Even with a lot of professional development, we will not be ready to provide the kind of instruction and learning that will happen in the classroom." Sanchez said it will be difficult but everyone is committed to doing their best.

Why wasn't the district preparing earlier?

Sanchez said most of their teaching staff doesn't work over the summer and "there was always this hope that we could go back. We always were hedging on that hope until recently." Sanchez said he was recently on a conference call with 30 superintendents and school board members across the country in major cities and everyone is in the exact same place.

"They don't know exactly how they're going to reopen schools. They don't know what distance learning will look like. They don't know how they can get everyone up to speed to be as successful as possible."

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How will distance learning look for SFUSD?

There's state mandates on how many minutes are allowed, Sanchez said. Elementary school is allowed four hours a day of instruction, but they are still determining what this will look like for all age groups. Sanchez said he would like to see at least two hours a day with teachers, then students would have assignments posted online along with constant check-ins.

"We have to do way more than we did in the Spring." Sanchez said they are negotiating with the teachers' unions to find the right balance.

Sanchez says he's "not totally confident" about aligning with the unions on hours of interaction with students. He added that "everyone was in panic mode, we kind of still are. I am confident that we will sit at the table with our labor partners and make the best agreement." Sanchez said, by law, families will be included in the conversation.

What about the emotional/social needs for kids?

"There's not a good answer to that. Also, teachers need that as well. We need to be with the students." Sanchez said Zoom is not a substitute for being in-person with students. Sanchez said he is not sure how they can handle the loss of learning as well without federal help.

What about childcare?

There is not a childcare plan, but Sanchez says they are partnering with the city to provide as much help around that as they can. That is still a work in progress.

What about students that don't have Wi-Fi?

Sanchez said he believes 98 percent of families in grades 3-12 have a device and Wi-Fi capability. Now the next challenge is Pre-K through 2nd grade. "We are pleading with our philanthropic partners to provide finances for that because we are going into deficit mode. We do desperately need more funding."

What's the goal?

Sanchez said eventually their goal is to have every student have the opportunity to be on-site part of the week and at home part of the week "until this virus is conquered."

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