San Francisco schools are establishing public health protocols as students return to classrooms. (Courtesy photo)

How we’re planning for in-person learning

Safety is of primary importance as school buildings begin to reopen

I’ve been working from an office on a school campus. I’m here to keep the building open for teachers who need a workspace to instruct students remotely. It’s strange to be in a near empty building that is usually filled with children.

Many school buildings are being utilized now in a variety of ways including as work spaces for educators as well as ongoing meals and learning materials distributions for students. We’re all practicing public health guidelines while on the school campus –– it’s one step toward getting ready for a gradual return to in-person schooling.

Our district team is working diligently to deliver remote instruction while also putting everything in place to offer an in-person learning option to students most in need. Distance learning is not a substitute for the in-person school experience. The intent of distance learning is and continues to be to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

We are preparing to move into a hybrid model for small groups of priority students once science and data suggest it is safe to do so. In order for the San Francisco Unified School District to reopen school buildings for in-person instruction, The City needs to meet certain public health indicators. In addition, I’ve outlined several factors that will need to be in place, including an adequate testing plan, staff training, students and families informed of protocols, a minimum of three months of personal protective equipment for all participating staff and students, and labor agreements. Once all of these factors are in place, SFUSD will submit an application to The City to reopen for priority student populations.

As part of our preparations, we are developing health and safety protocols for in-person learning which include screening students each morning; designating an “isolation area” for anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms; creating protocols to limit the sharing of objects and supplies; offering school meals in smaller, controlled settings; posting signage promoting safe practices; cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces daily; arranging classroom furniture to allow for 6-foot social distancing; minimizing non-essential visitors and volunteers to school sites; requiring face coverings to be worn indoors at all times for students third through 12th grades; providing additional PPE to those employees whose job duties may require it; training employees and students on hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette; and conducting daily health questionnaires for staff to affirm they are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms prior to entering a building or office space.

In addition to providing updates to the Board of Education at public meetings and on our website, SFUSD regularly meets with community and parent groups, the Department of Public Health and other city officials as well as employee representatives to share proposals and gather feedback.

We are eager to serve our students in-person. Please continue to stay safe and take care of yourself and your loved ones. Limiting the spread of COVID will support our efforts to get kids back into school buildings.

Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of schools for the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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