Dr. Vincent Matthews, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, said absences will be excused in the coming weeks so that parents can make decisions about whether ot keep students at home. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SFUSD to remain open for now, but officials warn more coronavirus cases likely

School attendance has dipped slightly as health crisis unfolds, adding to budget concerns

Update March 12, 3:54 p.m.: SF public schools to close for three weeks as coronavirus spreads

San Francisco public schools will remain open for the time being, but more coronavirus cases are inevitable, city officials said Wednesday.

The decision to keep schools open came after consultation with the Department of Public Health, which agreed public schools offer essential social services and should not be included in the large event ban instituted Wednesday. Further, public health director Dr. Grant Colfax warned that sending 56,000 children into the broader population could have unintended consequences in the community, especially for older adults who are more vulnerable to the virus.

COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, cases tend to be mild in children. With more testing, more cases than the current 14 confirmed in The City are likely to be diagnosed, Colfax added.

“It is only a matter of time before multiple students and staff members at SFUSD schools have a diagnosis for coronavirus COVID-19,” Colfax said. “The evidence is mixed on whether closing all schools for a certain period of time would make a significant difference.”

The Board of Education held an emergency meeting Monday evening to discuss whether to close schools and bump up spring break, but decided not to after talking extensively with the Department of Public Health in closed session.

The district also reopened Lowell High School Wednesday after closing it last Thursday afternoon due to a coronavirus link. That closure came after the district learned that a parent of a student, but not the student, tested positive for the virus.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco said Tuesday it would close all 90 of its schools after a student tested positive for COVID-19. The Department of Public Health was not consulted, Colfax said.

Archbishop Riordan High School and Immaculate Conception Academy Cristo Rey had closed previously after a student’s parent and staff, respectively, tested positive for coronavirus. San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, Academy of Art, University of California Berkeley, and the University of San Francisco, among others, are moving to online-only classes for the time being.

Colfax recommends schools and parents prepare plans for alternative educational methods and caregiving should the department change its recommendation depending on how the coronavirus spreads.

“To be clear, plans could change as the situation unfolds,” said Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “We recognize how challenging the COVID-19 situation is in our city, including the families, students and staff in our schools. People are worried and uncertain.”

School officials stressed that absences will be excused so parents can make decisions about whether to keep their students at home and that they should if they exhibit symptoms. Sick leave requests will be honored for staff who need it.

Attendance has dipped slightly, Matthews added. Though promises were not made, state officials Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond are aware of concerns over the impact on state funding, which is normally based on attendance.

Schools will also have extra costs related to an increased need for cleaning supplies and substitute educators; some district officials are seeking help for those costs from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a regular donor. This comes at a time when the district is already warning of potential layoffs as it grapples with a $31.8 million budget shortfall for the current school year.

More information from SFUSD on coronavirus can be found on its website and detailed guidance from the Department of Public Health on its website as well.

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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