San Francisco Chronicle

S.F. middle school targeted in complaint

- By Jill Tucker Jill Tucker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: jtucker@sfchronicl­ Twitter: @jilltucker

A civil rights law firm filed a complaint against the San Francisco school district over the “staffing chaos” at Marina Middle School, describing the conditions as the worst they’ve seen in over 20 years.

Public Advocates submitted the complaint to district officials Monday, starting the clock on a 30-day requiremen­t to address the concerns.

A staffing shortage has left the school with several vacancies, including English, Mandarin immersion and special education teachers, according to the complaint.

In addition, teachers on longterm leave have left classrooms with a string of substitute­s because labor agreements prevent the district from filling the positions with permanent replacemen­ts.

The school, which enrolls about 700 students, has also been unable to fill the nurse, head counselor and school social worker positions.

District officials said they were reviewing the complaint, but noted that the San Francisco public schools see several hundred teacher vacancies every year that must be filled out of about 3,500 teaching position.

“Marina is experienci­ng staffing vacancies consistent with other schools and we have been actively working to fill vacant positions,” said spokespers­on Laura Dudnick. “We have qualified candidates in the pipeline who we hope to hire to fill most of the vacancies at Marina soon.”

The complaint also cited questionab­le practices used to mitigate the shortages. In at least one case, multiple classes were gathered in the auditorium to watch the movie “Finding Nemo” because of staffing issues, a practice discontinu­ed after labor union complaints, according to the filing.

The law firm challenged the conditions through a Williams complaint, a process created in 2005 following a statewide lawsuit that allows parents or community members to challenge districts that are failing to provide adequate learning conditions. That includes staffing, facilities and resources, including textbooks.

“The staffing chaos at Marina Middle School, with numerous departures and vacancies, rolling substitute­s instead of stable teachers, and unlawful assignment­s are among the worst conditions we’ve seen since we filed (the Williams case) over 20 years ago,” Affeldt said. “While hiring is a challenge post-pandemic for most districts, SFUSD needs to be much more proactive in addressing the vacancies at Marina Middle and across the district.

“Inaction is not an option.” The complaint was filed after a San Francisco Examiner story highlighte­d “disciplina­ry chaos” at the school.

School administra­tors challenged the story, saying it misreprese­nts the environmen­t at the school and that they were disappoint­ed it omitted informatio­n, including the inability to comment on specific student discipline issues because of privacy requiremen­ts.

In addition, the leaders said students are never left in a classroom without a credential­ed adult.

“Even in light of the nationwide teacher shortage that is impacting Marina, we have a staff of teachers, paraeducat­ors, and administra­tors who are committed to delivering high-quality instructio­n to each and every student, in collaborat­ion with the Marina students and families,” co-principals Amanda Barnett and Katherine Brown wrote in a Jan. 12 letter to families.

Similar staffing concerns have plagued schools across California and the country in recent years amid widespread teacher shortage.

In recent years, San Francisco and other Bay Area districts have started school years with dozens of teacher vacancies, as well as openings for nurses, counselors and other positions. Special education is among the categories facing a critical shortage of qualified teachers.

Public Advocates called on the district to take “immediate action” to remedy the violations at Marina Middle School and elsewhere in the district and to start developing long-term solutions to address the problems.

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