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Private and charter schools prepare to reopen as city processes dozens of waiver applications

More than a dozen schools in San Francisco are in the final stages of obtaining a waiver to teach in-person as soon as next week, the Examiner has learned.

At least 67 private and charter schools have begun the application process to reopen, with roughly half submitting the application that requires a safety plan, city officials said Tuesday. More than a dozen schools are scheduled for onsite visits this week, which is the last step. If approved, children up to eighth grade could be back in classrooms as soon as Monday.

“We are visiting schools to ensure that things like ventilation and classroom structures are able to open as safely as possible,” said public health director Dr. Grant Colfax.

Schools going through the application process include Our Lady of the Visitacion School, KVZ Armenian School, Lick-Wilmerding High School and Mission Montessori Elementary, according to a list obtained by the Examiner. If all are approved, 9,679 students and 1,672 staff would return to 67 locations, city officials said in late August.

Convent & Stuart Hall, a Sacred Heart school in Pacific Heights that has about 1,1000 students enrolled in grades K-12, are waiting to schedule the site visit with DPH. They’ve invested in an upgraded HVAC system, added air purifiers, and even have UV sanitizers — things that will be needed past the pandemic as fires and bad air quality intensify. Staff have also been consulting with an infectious disease expert.

“We’re ready to roll,” said Sarah Leffert, the schools’ chief advancement officer. “We’re pushing hard to get it down for our own school and we recognize that we’re able to move quickly on these things but we really want this [citywide.]”

Masks will be required and parents must check temperatures each day, while faculty, already working from campus, are accustomed to avoiding bottleneck as they move around. Leffert added that they had a test run with their summer day camp in which kids took a few days to get used to masks and distance but ultimately made it a habit, yielding no confirmed cases.

Should Convent & Stuart Hall open, it would be a staggered start with first grades K-2, then 3-4, then 4-6 as DPH requested, according to Leffert.

In July, DPH issued guidance, which has since been updated, that set a rigorous regime of handwashing, social distancing, required face coverings and constant disinfection. Schools applying for the waiver must submit a safety plan while ventilation remains a big factor.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on Friday saying transmission had occurred from kids in child care facilities in Utah to household members, reinforcing that children over 10 years old can spread coronavirus. Colfax on Tuesday said the department was reviewing data regarding school reopening.

“I would not be surprised that even with the cautious measures that we’re taking that there will be COVID cases diagnosed in school settings, but we’re doing everything we can to mitigate that risk,” Colfax said. “There’s no way to completely eliminate that risk in the settings, including educational settings.”

Urban School of San Francisco in the Haight District also has been preparing to reopen since March, but has not received the application yet since students are in high school, according to spokesperson Kris Bailey. It plans to enact a schedule that has students on campus for four days — with each cohort coming for half a day — then Friday and the following week would be virtual learning. Days could be added or subtracted as needed.

No San Francisco Unified School District sites are on the list of schools in the application process, but the district must work with Creative Arts Charter School, according to Director Fernando Aguilar. Like Creative Arts Charter, SFUSD must first have agreements with the educators union before it can reopen. SFUSD did not indicate when it expected it might apply for a waiver.

“In order to reopen schools, SFUSD has several factors that need to be in place including having a testing plan, training staff, informing students and families of protocols, a minimum of three months supply of personal protective equipment for all participating staff and students, and labor agreements,” said SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick. “SFUSD has been preparing for a gradual return to a hybrid instructional model focusing first on our youngest students, students with disabilities in moderate/severe special day classes as well as homeless and foster youth and those who have shown the lowest overall online engagement.”


imojadad@sfexaminer.com

Ida Mojadad

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