School district preparing buildings for hybrid learning

SFUSD plans to use 72 elementary schools and 12 early education sites for first phase of reopening

City school officials expect to complete assessments of school buildings considered for the first phase of hybrid learning by early December and to have them ready for potential use by mid-January, officials said Wednesday.

However, it could be longer before the doors are actually ready to reopen.

The San Francisco Unified School District has completed detailed assessments of about 36 school sites so far for the first phase of hybrid teaching, Chief Facilities Officer Dawn Kamalanathan said at a school board committee meeting Wednesday.

With the help of volunteers who have already expressed interest, all 72 elementary schools and 12 early education sites will be assessed by early December so improvements may be made and site plans implemented for the spring semester.

“Our expectation is that the buildings will all be ready by mid-January,” Kamalathan told Board of Education members at the Augmented Buildings, Ground, and Services Committee. “We’re making good progress.”

In the 30 elementary school assessments completed, about 5,000 windows — crucial for safe ventilation — were counted; just 3 percent needed repairs. Assessments evaluate sinks, windows, bathrooms, shared tables, classroom shapes and more, and the information will be shared on a public data dashboard.

With current social distancing requirements, about 15,000 students are expected to fit into the buildings. Middle- and high-school sites are not considered developmentally appropriate or allowed for younger grades, school officials said.

Board member Alison Collins sought to find ways SFUSD could get help from the broader community with volunteers or resources, as well as maintain better communication to families.

“If we want urgency on this, we need to ask for help,” Collins said. “I do believe that our district has a culture of keeping it in house until we have a plan, and it’s just not working. I want us to get better at sharing our stuff.”

Because district systems require a lot of training, Kamalanathan said it could be helpful to enlist one or two people to train in analyzing site data and turning it into information easily consumed by the public. It’s not so much the strategizing that is needed, she added, but resources to carry out the work with a small buildings and grounds team.

Completed site assessments, however, don’t mean site plans are in place. That’s a matter for the individual schools to determine, and includes consideration of classroom spacing, cohorts, traffic flow plans, lunchtime eating, bathroom assignments, and placing plenty of decals to assure safe in-person learning.

Planning around cohorts and schedules heavily depends on hammering out which eligible families are actually sending their children for in-person learning, but no district-wide survey has yet been conducted. According to a SFUSD readiness dashboard launched last week, just 5 percent of that task is completed.

A personal protective equipment stockpile has been completed, with the exception of partitions on the way, for months.

Supriya Ray, parent to a second-grader at Jefferson Elementary School, said a school community-conducted survey found just 16 percent of families wanted to continue with online learning.

“I think it’s beyond clear from prior meetings that many, many families want to come back,” Ray said. “We figured this out on our own.”

Whether students are ready to re-enter the buildings also depends on SFUSD and labor unions approving a memorandum of understanding regarding hybrid teaching, which is ongoing but considered only 25 percent complete.

Board member Stevon Cook, while praising Kamalathan as the best person for the job, questioned again why SFUSD did not have a timeline for reopening. Supervisors on Friday demanded that SFUSD present a plan and timeline, following Mayor London Breed’s pressure to reopen schools.

“I understand the frustration for families that we don’t have a date,” Cook said. “I think we should have a plan for all K-12 schools to be in person before the end of the school year.”

Kamalanathan flagged cleaning requirements as a major issue. She previously estimated SFUSD would need to double its custodial workforce to the tune of $8 million in order to properly disinfect high-touch surfaces and prevent coronavirus spread.

“Resourcing has been personally shocking to me, given the intensity of use and the number of students,” Kamalanathan said of pre-pandemic operations. “That is something that should have been considered a baseline policy in running schools. In terms of what we can accomplish as a district, that’s a big one.”

She also noted that San Francisco schools for decades have not been built with the mechanical ventilation now needed due to the pandemic as well as bad air quality from wildfires.

Kamalanathan said she would reach back out to volunteers with details soon to complete 25 to 30 more site assessments by Thanksgiving. The Augmented Buildings, Ground, and Services Committee will meet again a week before the holiday.

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