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In San Francisco, turmoil over reopening schools turns a city against itself.


Mayor London Breed of San Francisco speaking to parents, students and teachers at a rally at City Hall this month in support of reopening schools.Mayor London Breed of San Francisco speaking to parents, students and teachers at a rally at City Hall this month in support of reopening schools.Credit…John G Mabanglo/EPA, via ShutterstockThomas FullerKate Taylor

March 31, 2021

The pandemic has brought grinding frustrations for parents, educators and students across the United States. But perhaps no place has matched San Francisco in its level of infighting, public outrage and halting efforts to reopen schools.

In February, the city sued its own school system, which has been entirely remote for a year, and board of education, accusing them of violating state law by not resuming in-person instruction.

Soon after, two parents infuriated by the school board’s decision to rename 44 schools, even as it kept them closed, started a drive to recall three of the board members. Some 9,000 people have joined the campaign’s mailing list, and they are expected to begin collecting signatures soon.

Then critics of the board unearthed four-year-old tweets written by the board’s vice president in which she accused Asian-Americans of sidling up to white Americans to get ahead without confronting racism, comparing them to slaves who benefited from working inside a slave owner’s house. More than a third of the district’s students are Asian-American.

Amid the chaos, one thing has remained clear: A large share of the city’s public school students are unlikely to see the inside of their classrooms this academic year.

The district has set dates in mid-to-late April to start bringing back elementary students and some high-needs older students, but there is no plan yet for the majority of middle or high school students to return. At the same time, all of the roughly 10,000 teachers and staff members in the district have been offered vaccinations.

In the realm of education, the pandemic has reinforced the notion of a city divided by wealth and race. Around one-third of the city’s schoolchildren, many of them white, go to private schools, one of the highest rates of any major city in the United States. Many of those private-school students have been sitting in classrooms for months while public school students, who are disproportionately Black, Latino and Asian-American, have spent the year in virtual classes.


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