Frequently Asked Questions about SFUSD's research process

FAQ about SFUSD's research process


  • Why do I need to submit a research application?
    • We review research applications to guard student privacy in accordance with FERPA, to provide transparency to the community, to ensure compliance with other local policies, to minimize the burden on instructional time and staff work time, and to maximize the value and alignment of the research to district priorities.
  • How long does it take to review a research application?
    • Please allow 8 weeks from submission to final review, since we receive a high volume of applications. Many of the review steps require staff to coordinate with other district leaders or to provide feedback to better tailor the research proposal to our local context. All staff involved also have other work obligations. Note that this time interval is an estimate; we prioritize applications depending on alignment to district needs or the timeline for serving students and staff.
    • Please note that our research review process is paused from mid-June to mid-August.
  • Is there anything I can do to speed up the process?
    • Some barriers we have noticed occur when applications are missing information (e.g., research instruments, consent forms, list of qualified personnel with clearance dates, incomplete “Partnership and Communication” table, etc.). We encourage applicants to use the checklist on the last page of the application, along with our guidelines, to ensure completeness. We also encourage less-experienced applicants to consult with local mentors or advisors to review and proofread their materials prior to submission, as we lack the capacity to provide such guidance due to other district obligations. Please submit all materials together in a single package so that we can review everything at the same time.
    • Please also complete all revisions within two weeks of receiving a request for revisions.
    • Please provide all additional and revised documents together in a single email in the same thread responding to the revision request, describing in the text of the email how you have addressed each point raised in the revision. Having to review multiple email messages and compile documents across separate threads sent at different times slows down the process considerably.
  • Why is there an application fee?
    • Because of the time required to confirm that research studies meet district criteria prior to approval, we have found that we need to charge a processing fee of $60 for incoming research applications, or an annual fee of $30 for renewal and amendment requests.
  • Why should I submit my application as an editable PDF instead of an image or scanned printout?
    • Sometimes we discover minor revisions that are needed (e.g., checking a box, adding a name, etc.). It is often more efficient for us to make the proposed edits directly and email you with the revisions to request your acceptance, rather than explaining the requested edits and waiting for you to make the changes.
    • We recommend that you do NOT use DocuSign when sending in your application for review, in case any revisions are needed. We may ask you to submit a new electronic application containing all the requested changes.

Who should be involved in conducting and approving research?

  • Can graduate students conduct research in SFUSD?
    • We normally do not permit research led by graduate students, since program and district timelines and expectations often do not align. In certain situations, we may consider such applications on a case-by-case basis.
    • All graduate students applying to conduct research must submit a letter of support (Form 1B) from their thesis advisor and include their advisor on all correspondence about the application. This is to help ensure that the application meets the required standards and aligns with program requirements.
  • Under what conditions can SFUSD staff conduct research?
    • For SFUSD staff who are conducting action research which goes beyond their normal duties (such as for their graduate degrees), we may approve research proposals under certain conditions: (1) if we have an existing partnership with the university and degree program, and (2) if the research is embedded in the work of a larger team within the district. This helps to align expectations in advance and to minimize potential conflicts of interest.
    • All SFUSD staff applying to conduct research should include their supervisor’s contact information on consent forms and allow time for their supervisor to meet with the Research Support Team, to discuss potential conflicts of interest and opportunities to embed lessons from the research within school / district structures.
  • If I am an external researcher, should I get the principal's permission before I start the research application process? 
    • Please do not contact school staff directly about a proposed research project until your application has been reviewed and approved. We need to protect school staff time to focus on school operations rather than responding to every partnership opportunity which may arise. Please submit your research application through the research review process, so that we can work with school staff to determine what kind of research is most useful for them.

Other related documentation

MOUs (Memoranda of Understanding)

  • When do I need an MOU?

    • SFUSD RPA does not use MOUs for research. This may be different from other districts’ practices. Instead, SFUSD uses MOUs for arrangements where other agencies are providing direct services to students or staff. We ask for copies of those MOUs when they are relevant to a research or evaluation project so that we are aware of these arrangements in our review of the proposal.

IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval

  • My IRB is asking for a letter of support from the district before they will provide research ethics approval. Where do I start?

    • Please refer to our letter to IRBs, where we explain our reasoning for requiring IRB approval prior to SFUSD review.
  • What if my proposed research study is exempt from IRB review?
    • Please provide documentation from your IRB indicating that they have determined your research study to be exempt from review. This may take the form of an email from them to us.
  • Should I submit my research application if I don’t yet have IRB approval?
    • If necessary, you may submit the rest of your complete application package for review while you wait for your IRB review. Please note that we will need to wait for documentation of IRB approval or exempt status before we can issue approvals of research applications.

DUAs (Data Use Agreements)

  • What is the timeline for reviewing and approving a DUA (data use agreement)?
    • The specific timeline depends on the scope and complexity of the data to be shared, including related factors such as whether it will be necessary to link administrative records with primary data, and whether your institution will be satisfied with the terms of our existing DUA templates.
    • We developed the language in our standard DUA template through extensive consultation with legal counsel across multiple institutions. This allows us to maintain consistency across research partners and to streamline our process. The vast majority of SFUSD research projects are conducted in accordance with this standard language. Institutions which request custom modifications are thus at a disadvantage, since this significantly impacts the likelihood of completing the research in a timely manner.
    • If your organization’s legal department has any specific concern(s) regarding our DUA template, please let us know as soon as possible. These discussions are time-intensive and may ultimately result in the research project not taking place. On rare occasions, SFUSD’s Legal Department may agree to consider amending the language in the standard DUA template to create a custom agreement, through a process which often takes 6-12 months to negotiate. 

Clearance for site visits

  • How do I know if I need to submit a form certifying clearance for site visits?
    • Please consult with your legal department, risk management office, or contracts office for guidance.
  • How would I obtain fingerprinting as part of my clearance for site visits?
    • If you are affiliated with a university, research firm, or other professional organization, you should obtain your fingerprinting through your place of employment.
    • If you are an independent or individual researcher without a professional entity to vouch for your clearance, you will need to have your fingerprinting run through SFUSD’s HR department. Please contact us if this is the case.

When are translations of documents needed?

  • For parents and guardians: If a given site has at least 15% of families from the same primary language background, we must translate all materials sent to families into that language (per CA Education Code, Section 48985). Please consult this resource from the CDE for a list of languages and schools.
  • For students: Please provide materials for students in their language of instruction. List of language pathways by school 
  • For staff: No translations are needed.


Please consult these Guidelines for Conducting Research for more information.

This page was last updated on November 1, 2022