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San Francisco public schools commit to full return this fall with new start times

The San Francisco public school district shared more details on Tuesday about what a return to five full days of instruction will look like in the fall, reiterating an earlier pledge from April to return all students to classrooms come August.

Students and educators will likely remain masked this fall, the district said, unless additional guidance is provided from the state. Otherwise, classrooms will look very similar to pre-pandemic times. Health screenings will no longer be required for entry and surveillance testing will be discontinued. Class size and configurations will be similar to pre-pandemic levels. After-school activities, sports and clubs are also a go for the August 16 start date.

“Given what we know now, everyone—families, staff and students—should plan for a full return to in-person learning in the fall,” said Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “Imagine that the number of hours school buildings are open and filled with people will be like pre-pandemic conditions,” he added.

Families who wish to remain remote will be able to explore opportunities for independent study, an option that existed for specific circumstances before the pandemic as well.

In addition to reopening details, SFUSD also unveiled new school start times of 7:50 a.m., 8:40 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., which the district says will save $3 million in annual transportation costs by using buses more efficiently. With start times 50 minutes apart, buses will be able to transport students to three different school locations. 

The change also brings SFUSD into compliance with a state law which requires older students to start school later; research shows that this can improve physical health, mental health and academic performance.

But parents and educators alike said in public comment Tuesday that they were left out of the decision-making process. Chris Clauss, an educator at Washington High School, listed out a laundry list of questions and concerns: “Will it be safe for students who will now need to commute home after dark? What about the safety and wellness of our students participating in after-school activities?”

“This rushed call is giving schools no time to engage their communities about bell schedules,” Clauss added. 

SFUSD has said it will evaluate how well these changes work next fall and may consider adjusting some start times for the 2022-23 school year. 

UESF President Susan Solomon gave brief remarks in Tuesday’s meeting, reiterating the union’s commitment to bargaining for five full days of in-person learning in the fall. The bargaining process begins next week.

Meredith Dodson, founder of the parent advocacy group Decreasing the Distance, celebrated the district’s commitment to five full days in the fall. “First of all, thank you. I’m going to go have a beer after this. I hope you will too,” she said with a laugh. “This is very important for families,” Dodson added.

SFUSD’s slow and partial reopening has lagged most large districts in the country, despite San Francisco having some of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates nationally. Under local public health guidelines, schools have been allowed to reopen in San Francisco since fall 2020; SFUSD reopened for some students on April 12.

The reopening process has drawn ire from parents and elected officials alike, including from state education officials. 

On Tuesday, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond informed Matthews in a letter that SFUSD is out of compliance with a state law, AB 86, that entitles school districts to millions in state funding if they offer in-person instruction to the “maximum extent possible.” 

The letter cites particular concern with SFUSD’s posture towards high school students, accusing the district of attempting an “end run” around the statute by offering only one day of in-person, hybrid instruction to seniors prior to a May 15 deadline established by the state. 

The school district’s slow reopening has also drawn harsh criticism from Mayor London Breed, as well as some parents who organized an effort to recall three school board members.

Sophie Bearman can be reached at

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