SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Some San Francisco students and parents held an unusual outdoor demonstration Thursday, with children participating in distance learning on computers from a park in the city.
Five days ahead of the next San Francisco Unified School District board meeting, families are turning up the pressure for the district to hammer out a deal with the teachers unions. Students and their parents are frustrated with the long-delayed school reopening plans.READ MORE: High School Girl Sues San Mateo County, State of California to Allow Indoor Youth Sports
“We’re just trying to do something — anything at this point — to bring awareness and try and get some movement,” explained SF parent Sam Pederson.
The event was organized by the group Decreasing the Distance, which is calling on San Francisco Unified School District officials to reopen schools and return to in-person learning.
Eleven months of frustration and anger morphed into a very modern 2021 style protest Thursday morning.
“So this is not a sit-in. This is a….this is a Zoom-in. This is a Zoom-in,” said parent organizer Viviane Safrin.
Several dozen kids attended their normal distance learning classes today, not at home, but instead on the lawn of Midtown Terrace Park in San Francisco.
It was a mash-up of old school protesting and new age learning, designed to send the message to — and keep the pressure on — the powers that be.
“We want the stakeholders who are making decisions to understand the level of urgency that families and children are experiencing. And up until this point we have felt pretty invisible,” said Safrin. “They are suffering at home. and so we wanted to bring them out to let our city see our children and let them be heard.”
“It’s just torture at this point. It feels wrong,” said Sarah Swanson, a San Francisco resident and parent of two school children. “I just feel like none of the parents are being heard. The data is out there. It’s safe.”
The children have been cooped up for nearly a year in front of laptops and made their feelings about distance learning over Zoom clear.
“I really, really, really, don’t like it,” said 2nd grader Levi Cashman.
The kids came out to tell the adults in charge to, “Figure it out, please.”READ MORE: Longtime San Francisco Merchants Lament Recent Spike in Burglaries
“I’m really bored of looking at the screen everyday,” said another 2nd grader named Thomas.
“Being on a screen so long it hurts my eyes; it makes my brain feel all mashed up, like mashed potatoes,” lamented 4th grader Ayla. “It makes me feel groggy. It makes me lose my focus. I don’t like it not at all. I would really appreciate it if the school district could find a way to get us safely back.”
The district sent KPIX 5 a statement in response to the protest.
“Like the vast majority of other school districts across the state, we remain in distance learning. We understand students and families are struggling and we are looking forward to seeing our students back in classrooms,” the statement read. “We cannot reopen schools without our employees so must consider and address their concerns. We’re getting closer and we’re hopeful that we will be able to offer the option of hybrid in-person learning soon.”
According to the school district, plans to reopen are underway, with at least six elementary schools now ready to open after having recently been inspected by the city’s Department of Public Health.
The San Francisco teachers’ union was also calling out SF district officials ahead of their return to the negotiating table Thursday, criticizing what they believe is an lack of urgency on the district’s part to get an agreement in place.
On Tuesday, the union presented a comprehensive proposal around scheduling, stable cohorts, physical distancing in classrooms and in-person special education services.
When the parties returned to the table on Wednesday, union officials were expecting a counter proposal from the district, but none was offered.
San Francisco city officials including Mayor London Breed have also been critical of the district.
Last week, City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), the San Francisco Board of Education, and Superintendent Vincent Matthews.
The motion alleges the failure to provide student in-class instruction when health officials have allowed schools to reopen violates children’s state constitutional right to attend school and the California Education Code, which requires school districts to “offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible.”
The move is the latest legal effort by San Francisco to reopen its public schools that have been shut for nearly a year because of the pandemic. Two days earlier, Herrera amended a lawsuit against SFUSD originally filed last week to include allegations that the district is violating the California Constitution and state law.MORE NEWS: Fed Judge in SF Approves $650 Million Facebook Privacy Lawsuit Settlement
Kenny Choi contributed to this story.