(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

City staff to help school district prepare buildings for returning students

San Francisco will deploy 20 disaster workers to help public schools assess buildings for in-person learning, officials said Thursday.

Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Unified School District said on Thursday they would partner to finish assessing school buildings before students return.

The district and school board are aiming for Jan. 25 to begin bringing back students. Disaster workers will shift duties starting Nov. 16.

“We know that opening our public schools is going to be challenging, but the City is ready to do what we can to help get our kids back in schools starting in January,” Breed said in a statement. “By sending city staff over to help with school building assessments, we can speed up the work that needs to be done to make sure our classrooms are safe and healthy places for our kids and our teachers.”

The district must first take stock of its buildings to know what repairs may be needed to ensure proper ventilation from functioning windows as well as how bathrooms, shared tables, classroom shapes, and more. That inventory is needed to plan cohorts, break schedules, markings, signs, and more to ensure safety from COVID-19 spread.

Chief Facilities Officer Dawn Kamalanathan previously said that about 3 percent of 5,000 windows counted by October needed repairs. On Tuesday, she said that assessments could be completed by the fall break.

“We’ve completed these site assessments at several school sites but there are dozens more to go,” said Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “We are grateful to have the City’s partnership to conduct site assessments quickly and thoroughly so we can make any needed adjustments as soon as possible.”

Buildings still won’t be ready for students to return until the district determines how many families are willing to send them back. A survey is still being finalized.

SFUSD made a big stride on Tuesday in board approval of a contract with Curative, a testing company that will regularly screen employees for COVID-19. Insurance providers will be billed, sparing the district additional costs even if an employee is uninsured. The potential cost, up to $300 per test, was a major obstacle for some time.

The district is also developing an agreement to manage test results with help from The City. Students without symptoms will not be regularly screened.

But the frequency of testing is still a point of contention as SFUSD negotiates with unions for in-person work agreements. State guidelines recommend surveillance testing every two months for staff but educators, including Board President Mark Sanchez, seek a more frequent schedule.

“I’d feel totally comfortable coming back…but I’m going to want a test more than every two months,” said Sanchez, who is preparing to return to his Daly City classroom in January, on Monday. “That, frankly, isn’t enough. That’s where we’re locked in negotiations.”

The first students to return will include those in grade 1 or younger as well as those with disabilities; return dates for remaining students are unknown. School board members on Tuesday proposed a resolution that would require staff to present a plan for elementary school students on Dec. 8 followed by a plan in January for middle and high school students.

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