San Francisco private schools are moving quickly toward reopening by the dozens while San Francisco public schools are moving more cautiously toward reopening with a lengthy checklist.
The Department of Public Health had granted in-person waivers for six out of 83 interested schools as of Wednesday, and another 12 schools were in the final stage of a site assessment before approval, according to a data tracker launched on Tuesday.
By contrast, the San Francisco Unified School District outlined a “decision tree” this week for several health milestones and plans needed to before it can reopen, some of which are prepared but are unlikely to coalesce in the near future.
“All of this is non-sequential, but we do have to have all of that in place to resume in-person operations,” said SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday. “We don’t want to open just to shut down.”
For any students to return, The City must remain on California’s coronavirus red tier for 14 consecutive days, modify its shelter-in-place order, issue a new order for in-person operations and guidance, which is currently the case.
The first phase of the district’s hybrid reopening plans, known as Phase 2a, would be for small cohorts, prioritizing students with moderate or severe disabilities, grades Pre-Kindergarten to first grade, and early education at standalone sites. That could range from 500 to 1,000 students at roughly 15 sites.
Board President Mark Sanchez said he believed those groups could return by winter break.
But The City’s coronavirus testing capacity could limit how many students and staff return. All staff must be tested every two months in a staggered fashion under the plan, which has the district looking at an arrangement with Kaiser Permanente.
“Something we’re not sure about at this point is the amount of testing that needs to be done, if The City has the capacity,” Sanchez said. “That could put a limit on how many staff and students can come back.
Phase 2b would add students with limited online engagement and homeless and foster youth, expanding students learning in person anywhere from 2,500 to 15,000 students at roughly 60 sites. SFUSD has about 57,000 students.
SFUSD also still needs a plan to support students at increased risk of infection, to assess classroom ventilation and rearrange classroom furniture, and a new memorandum of understanding with unions. Negotiations have begun.
“We’re willing and able to come to the bargaining table as often as it takes,” said Susan Solomon, president of United Educators of San Francisco, to school board members on Tuesday. “Very, very few people prefer crisis distance learning. We’re not trying to avoid teaching in person — we very much prefer it — but we need to be safe and we need funding for our schools.”
SFUSD also needs instructional learning plans like a community health pledge, new bell schedule, extracurriculars, outdoor instruction and technology plans. General health and safety requirements also include screening students each morning, posting signage, offering meals in smaller settings, requiring face coverings for students third grade and above and more, in a rigorous regime.
The district does have a three-month supply of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, desktop partitions and a plan for repeated closures ready.
Convent & Stuart Hall, a Sacred Heart school with about 1,100 students enrolled in K-12 grades, was just granted the waiver on Wednesday but has been ready to launch with an upgraded HVAC system, UV sanitizers and other precautions.
Many of the private schools also don’t have unions. Sanchez, third grade teacher in Daly City, said he is personally thankful to have a union to help protect staff and student safety.
“It’s clear that private schools, outside the parochials, have resources that the public schools don’t have,” Sanchez said. “They also have smaller populations of students. It’s just, generally speaking, easier for them to manage a reopening than a large complex district like SFUSD.”