The San Francisco Unified School District is working with its teachers and families to get youngsters back in classrooms in a safe and effective manner. (SFUSD Screenshot)

The San Francisco Unified School District is working with its teachers and families to get youngsters back in classrooms in a safe and effective manner. (SFUSD Screenshot)

Systematic approach to reopening classrooms is well underway

Modifying learning plans and schedules, deploying protocols and training among tasks at hand

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When I was a student, and later a teacher and principal in San Francisco Unified School District schools, I loved the company of others in class, in the library, in the cafeteria and in the schoolyard. The connections and relationships I’ve built as a student and educator have stayed with me my whole life.

Schools are places for interaction and connection, and there are critical components that must be in place for us to safely return to in-person. We’ve identified the first schools and student groups to gradually and safely return to in-person learning, which will happen by adhering to public health guidelines and equipping schools and classrooms with the necessary materials to keep students and staff as safe as possible.

The ways we are planning to reopen school buildings is new for all of us and it’s important that we approach this work in a systematic and thoughtful way, providing opportunities for us to learn and make adjustments and improvements along the way. That is one of the many reasons why our approach to returning in-person instruction during the pandemic is gradual.

Returning to our school campuses involves modifying learning plans and bell schedules, developing and deploying appropriate protocols and training for employees, providing sufficient cleaning and supplies for all sites, and instituting prevention measures and changes to facilities among so many other things.

On Dec. 9, SFUSD submitted a Letter of Interest (LOI) to the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), marking the first step in the process to obtain city approval before reopening school buildings to in-person instruction. City approval is one of a number of indicators that SFUSD must meet before reopening school buildings.

Per SFDPH guidance, TK-12 schools must submit a Letter of Interest to SFDPH followed by an application/plan for Health Officer review and approval before re-opening for in-person instruction.

As you may know, we’re aiming to open the first group of schools (Wave 1 schools) Jan. 25, 2021 and more schools (Wave 2) on Feb. 8. Schools will first open classes to students in pre-kindergarten and special education classes. After that, those same schools will open to students in TK-2nd grade.

Student groups invited to return will gradually grow to include homeless and foster youth and those students who have shown the lowest overall online engagement. Any date to reopen is subject to change based on many factors including the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community and completion of bargaining with the teachers union and other labor groups.

We’ve shared a dashboard that provides real-time updates on all the areas of work that must be completed before school buildings can reopen. This work includes identifying small groups of students for opening; having a staff testing plan in place; training all staff in and informing families of COVID-19 health and safety protocols; putting in place COVID-19 prevention measures; preparing school facilities for social distancing; securing a three-month supply of personal protective equipment; putting in place instructional learning plans, and completing bargaining with various labor groups.

As of Dec. 11, I am happy to report we have met the target of having a three-month supply of personal protective equipment.

In early December, we sent a questionnaire to families with students in the first phase of in-person learning (Phase 2A) to understand their specific interest in returning to in-person. Families are asked to indicate their preference to return to in-person or remain in distance learning by Dec. 11 so SFUSD can plan for the number of students and amount of space that will be needed to serve those students in Phase 2A prior to determining how it might be able to expand to offer other students an in-person learning option.

We’re all looking forward to seeing our students back in our classrooms, and I appreciate all that our educators and families are doing to attend to the learning and social-emotional needs of our students during distance learning.

Read our Return Safely Together: SFUSD’s In-Person Learning Plan.

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

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