San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

Parents’ joy turns to frustratio­n over partial reopening

- By Nanette Asimov and Michael Cabanatuan Nanette Asimov and Michael Cabanatuan are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: nasimov@sfchronicl­e.com, mcabanatua­n@sfchronicl­e.com Twitter: @NanetteAsi­mov, @Ctuan

Parents’ excitement about San Francisco schools finally reopening in April turned glum Saturday as most realized that their children were not included in the latest plan.

“It was initial excitement and overjoyed feelings of — is this really happening?” said Meredith Dodson, whose son is in preschool at Rooftop Elementary in the Twin Peaks neighborho­od. “Now it’s skepticism and concern about what this means for the spring.”

Dodson said she doesn’t know whether her child’s school is among those set to reopen in April. (It’s not.) Although school officials announced Friday night that they had at last reached a tentative deal with teachers to return to the classroom, she and other parents soon realized that 24 elementary schools of 64 will reopen in April. It’s not clear when the remaining elementary schools will reopen. The agreement opens preschool and elementary grades, but not middle or high schools. Dodson, who founded the parents’ group Decreasing the Distance last summer, criticized the plan for leaving out so many students. Others said they were fed up with poor communicat­ion from district officials. And others said the plan shows the district is moving in the right direction and gives them hope that their children won’t be stuck in Zoom school for much longer.

School district officials declined to discuss the reopening plan Saturday.

Susan Solomon, president of the teachers union, praised the agreement reached with the help of Shamann Walton, president of the Board of Supervisor­s. She called it the “product of months of adapting and reimaginin­g what a return to inperson instructio­n for educators, students, and families in a large urban district could look like in a pandemic.” While many teachers had been fearful of returning without vaccinatio­ns, last week the district sent 4,000 access codes to staff for vaccinatio­ns, more than enough for those who will return in the first two groups.

Parents’ frustratio­n with the new plan underscore­s the need to win back trust and loyalty, as some families have fled the district for the suburbs or private school — already open for inperson instructio­n — or have threatened to. In particular, parents of incoming kindergart­ners often feared that school would be a mix of inperson and Zoom classes next fall. The district loses funding for every family that leaves, which in turn can harm the quality of education for those left behind.

“I just want to go back to school,” said Nate Kajdasz, 5, a kindergart­ner at Jefferson Elementary, in the city’s Inner Sunset neighborho­od. “I’ve never been to that school in real life.”

Nate said doing everything online is “a bit hard. I have to carry my computer on my desk every day. It’s a lot of work.”

But Nate won’t get to go to school anytime soon because Jefferson isn’t included in the new plan.

His mom, Erica Kajdasz, said, “I’d like to be optimistic — but it’s hard at this point.”

Tami Fara, who has three children at Argonne Elementary in the Richmond neighborho­od, welcomed the news of school reopening — even though Argonne will remain closed. Only its early education program is set to open, which could include one of her kids.

Even so, Fara called the plan a “sliver of hope at the end of a long, challengin­g year.”

Vaneni Vardanyan felt less hope than frustratio­n because Marshall Elementary, where her 8yearold daughter, Vardeni, is a secondgrad­er, isn’t reopening in April.

“For us it’s imperative to return,” Vardanyan said. “In September, it was great — my daughter was very organized. But she started to regress in January. Getting distracted easily, and watching stupid shows on YouTube” during class. “We don’t like distance learning at all. It doesn’t work for us.”

Vardayan hastened to say that the problem is not about the teacher. “Ideally, she would be our teacher when we go back to inperson. But there is only so much she can do online.”

Lila Meskin, 7, a secondgrad­er at Daniel Webster, had one word for Zoom school: “Boring.” She remembered the exact date she was last in a real classroom, March 13, and said it was a lot better than staring at the computer. “Because I like hugging people,” she said.

Her mom, Sara Meskin, is a teacher in Daly City’s Jefferson Union High School District and is preparing to return to the classroom this spring. In San Francisco, though, communicat­ion with parents has been a problem, she said.

District officials declined to discuss details of the plan with The Chronicle until a Monday press conference, leaving parents with more questions than answers.

“What will the school day look like? Will aftercare be available? We still don’t have a date for when our kids (at Daniel Webster) will go back. It’s just frustratin­g,” Meskin said. “I expected more of San Francisco Unified.”

Renee Mahan, whose three children in middle and high school “miss being in class, and miss their teachers,” neverthele­ss praised the district for having any plan at all. “It may help those that are struggling with distance learning.”

Still, “it’s sad that my kids will graduate from the couch,” she said. ”But until they can be in a classroom without COVID hanging over our heads every day, we will stick to distance learning and be thankful that we have that.”

Dodson, who founded the parents group focused mainly on reopening schools, urged district officials to create a better plan.

“We need to see a broader and more robust reopening plan than this,” she said. “There’s so much missing.”

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