The Quagmire Behind Re-Opening San Francisco’s Public Schools: an interview with SFUSD Board Member Kevine Boggess

By JR Valrey, The Minister of Information 

School’s all over San Francisco have been opening in phases, as society’s fear of the corona virus is starting to subside. Now that students have been stuck in distance-learning for over a year, there are a host of new issues that come up, related to public education in a post-covid pandemic environment such as financial issues, addressing the students who had issues with distance-learning, staffing issues, and more.

Over the distance learning period, during Inauguration Day, the distance learning network was hacked at Lowell High School and students were exposed to racist and pornographic imagery. The media was ablaze with the controversy at first,  but now, things have cooled down as the right wing element of parents at Lowell High School spearheaded a campaign to recall Allison Collins from the SFUSD Board of Education, because of her vocal support of integrating Lowell High to better reflect the San Francisco student body, and her support of additional resources being given to students of color.

Black New World Media sat down with San Francisco School Board member Kevine Boggess to talk about these issues and others surrounding the politics around San Francisco’s Unified School District. 

JR Valrey: Why did SFUSD bring students back to school with less than 6 weeks left before summer vacation? Can you talk a little bit about the federal funding behind it?

Kevine Boggess: Based on the decision that we made last year, this was the earliest we were able to get all the logistics in order to bring back students. It’s valuable for SFUSD to have students return now, so that we can make sure we start the ‘21-’22 school year with as few problems as possible.

Our reopening will allow us to access funds made available by the State of California encouraging the school district to return students back to the classroom, this school year. Both the State and Federal recovery funds will provide SFUSD with critical short-term funds to help shore up our budget deficit.. 

JR Valrey: How have elementary school students responded so far to re-entering school buildings? Have there been any health concerns?

Kevine Boggess: The families I spoke with have had really positive experiences returning to classrooms, but there have been some challenges around staff shortages that have prevented more families from returning. There haven’t been any major health concerns or COVID-19 outbreaks, to my knowledge, but we are still learning how to keep everyone safe in this new reality.

JR Valrey: How have SFUSD students been doing with distance learning over the last year and a half? Will SFUSD continue to use distance learning in some form, when going back to school is fully normalized? How? 

Kevine Boggess: Distance Learning has been really hard for students, families, and district staff. Some families have seen students do better during distance learning, but overall I view distance learning as a part of the pandemic response. As we return to classrooms in the Fall, we need to find ways to support everyone in transitioning back.

JR Valrey: Can you speak on what the SFUSD has decided to do with the enrollment process at Lowell high school, next year? Why was a change necessary now?

Kevine Boggess: The School Board decided for the 2021-22 school year that Lowell High School would have a lottery system, due to the pandemic, preventing the normal testing from taking place that is used in the admission process. The school board voted to permanently remove the admissions testing requirement, and keep the lottery system. I personally didn’t feel this was an urgent change to make and that it didn’t do enough to address equity issues faced by students at other schools.

JR Valrey: Can you speak on what SFUSD plans to do to address the racism and misogyny in the San Francisco school district, especially at Lowell, that was highlighted in January, during inauguration day in a supposed computer hack?

Kevine Boggess: In a lot of ways I think that what happened at Lowell was a reminder of how much more progress is still needed for us as a school district to live up to our mission and vision. Even though our district has passed resolutions, hired additional staff to support African American success initiatives, and hired a Black Superintendent, we still aren’t doing enough to address racism and misogyny in our school district.

As a newly-elected board member, I’m committed to ensuring that our School District is improving outcomes and the experiences for Black Students, Students in special education programs and foster youth. For me, that really means holding the district accountable to students and families to provide the support they need to be successful.

JR Valrey: How do you think that the recent act of racism; with the elementary school-aged Black boy, who was accused of stealing out of Safeways although he had a receipt, that took place in San Francisco, should be dealt with?

Kevine Boggess: My heart goes out to that student and their family for having to deal with the false accusation and the pain that comes with that. Also as someone who grew up in San Francisco, it’s a real reflection of what it feels like to be a Black person in San Francisco, and the anti-blackness that has always been a part of SF culture. We as a school district have to do more to stand with Black families experiencing racism and racial profiling, starting with the institutional racism in our school district. 

JR Valrey: Although it has been a fight to educate the City’s children during Covid, do you feel that there has been any benefit, after going through this period, for the district?

Kevine Boggess: The only benefit I feel covid offered was it got a lot of people who care about what was going on with public schools to get involved in new ways, which is what it will take for us to make the structural changes to improve public schools, so that all students can be successful.

JR Valrey: Are SFUSD students expected to have all of the standardized skills that they should have at their grade level, at the beginning of next school year or will the district take into account that there has been a pandemic? How does the district expect to catch the students up who have had a hard time with distance-learning before next school year?

Kevine Boggess: The school district understands the difficult time that students and their families have had over the last year, and is committed to meeting every student where they are at. In order to support students who’ve had a hard time due to the pandemic, I believe we have to create more opportunities for students to have structured, in-class learning over the next few years, and will be pushing to see more funds spent on this in next year’s budget.

JR Valrey: What are some other hardships that SFUSD is facing, before they are expecting to fully open schools next school year?

Kevine Boggess: The biggest challenge is that California doesn’t fully fund public education, so our school district and many others across the State of California don’t have enough money. So we are having to figure out ways to support students and their families with the resources we have.

JR Valrey: Where can people get more information about what is going on with SFUSD?

Kevine Boggess: The School District website is the best place to get information, www.sfusd.edu. It has all the information about reopening, graduations, summer programs and lots of other information that families might need.

 

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