Parents welcome the new school year with relief

Students at Live Oak School are enjoying snack time outside. PHOTO: Potrero View Staff

Last fall, schools once again welcomed students for in-person learning five days a week, many for the first time in a year and a half. Potrero Hill’s parents and their students have largely greeted the return to normal with relief.

“People are so excited to be back. You feel it from the teachers, the principal, the parents, ”said Tanya Mera, who has a Kindergarten and Grade 3 child at Daniel Webster Elementary.

Daniel Webster’s parent Jason Barton agreed. “It’s so great to see the smiles of the kids, to see them running around.”

Barton has a second year in school and coaches football and baseball.

With COVID-19 cases remaining low, Mera and Barton feel safe sending their children back to class. The students eat lunch outside; teachers were creative in how to use the spaces throughout the school, organizing some activities outside. Daniel Webster has had a few cases of COVID-19 so far this school year that has forced exposed students into quarantine, but no outbreaks.

Jordan Peavey, who has a first year at Live Oak School, said his child had “less transition” than public school students since classes were held in person for most of the past year. There have been no cases of COVID-19 so far this year at school. Similar to the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), Live Oak requires masking, open windows, and an alfresco lunch.

According to SFUSD’s COVID-19 Dashboard, only 321 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported since mid-August, out of nearly 63,000 students and staff; a case rate of 0.005%. Portable air purifiers have been installed on all campuses.

At the end of August, SFUSD had a 96 percent vaccination rate among its employees. There is currently no requirement for students to be vaccinated, although Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in October that a vaccination mandate will be phased in for all students once the Food and Drug Administration has completed. approved vaccines for children.

“The decision to come back was safe,” Mera said. “It’s a shame we weren’t able to do it sooner. ”

A relative of Daniel Webster who wished to remain anonymous agreed, saying the low case rate proves “we could have done something different last year.”

The district is struggling with a low enrollment rate and a shortage of teachers. At the start of the school year, 49,435 students enrolled in public schools in San Francisco, a drop of 6.6% since fall 2019; a decrease of 4.7 compared to last year.

Due to the shrinking student population, SFUSD could lose $ 35 million in public funds next year, which is equivalent to a 6.5% drop from two years ago. The district expects its state base grant, determined by the number of daily participants, to fall to around $ 500 million from $ 535 million before the pandemic. This could worsen an already large deficit for next year. In its last detailed update released in June, SFUSD’s budget office set its deficit for fiscal year 2023 at $ 112 million, a calculation that ruled out any further declines in enrollment. In September, the state estimated the shortfall at $ 116 million after removing some unspecified budget cuts.

The loss of students in San Francisco public schools matches statewide trends over the past two years, in which many families have moved, changed schools, or removed children entirely from the school. ‘school. The Los Angeles Unified School District saw a six percent drop in enrollment.

In San Francisco, the steepest enrollment declines occurred among younger students, with preschools falling 13% between fall 2019 and fall 2021. White, Asian and Filipino families have left more SFUSD schools.

Despite general enthusiasm to be back on campus, some students are anxious about the pandemic and social discomfort after more than a year of absence from school. SFUSD has developed a mindfulness program that includes daily mood checks, brain pauses, and emotional vocabulary building exercises, according to Laura Dudnick, SFUSD public relations manager.

“Knowing that they have left school, we want them to have this opportunity,” said Superintendent Vincent Matthews during a visit to Daniel Webster for a session on mindfulness.

Parents also face ongoing challenges; ongoing public health crises make it difficult to create a sense of community belonging.

“We’re not completely back to normal, although everyone wants to,” Peavey admitted.

Gone are the opportunities for big fundraising events. Parents can no longer enter classrooms due to pandemic restrictions. Barton misses the pasta dinners where families gather in a room.

Donations are down at Daniel Webster, according to Mera. The Parent-Teacher Association is developing new fundraising initiatives to close the gap. She recognized the need to start “from square one” to build enthusiasm for events such as Taste of Potrero, usually held in May.

Live Oak couldn’t organize their school-wide camping trip late last year, but are hoping to have more in-person events this year, according to Peavey. There is a strong desire to foster community spirit and step up screens after a year of parent events on Zoom.

SFUSD parents also adapt to schedule changes. Daniel Webster went from 8:40 a.m. to 7:50 a.m. in an attempt to reduce bus transportation costs. The transition has been difficult for many families, according to Mera. Barton said the jet lag had been “a bit difficult” and that he was not sure “the teeth are brushing as well as before”.

Downtown High School and Bessie Carmichael School also have new hours this year, both starting at 9:30 a.m. Bryant Elementary continues to start at 7:50 a.m.

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