School officials are coalescing behind a plan to begin bringing students back in-person by Jan. 25 and to set clear deadlines for reopening.
School board members Jenny Lam, Stevon Cook and Gabriela Lopez on Tuesday introduced a resolution instructing staff to present a reopening plan and timeline on Dec. 8 for all elementary school students, followed by one for middle and high school students in January.
Under the resolution, the first group of students in first grade or younger and those with disabilities would return by Jan. 25, should health officials allow schools to open. San Francisco Unified School District staff on Monday told the Examiner they were already working with that date as a target.
“I hear the desperation and the yearning and voices of many parents about coming back and I hear the fear for parents and educators as well,” Cook said. “So I’m listening.”
District staff on Tuesday provided an update on steps needed to reopen schools, from preparing facilities to health and safety plans. A dashboard showing indicators to bring the first phase back was made public, which has few items 100 percent complete, but several that are mostly complete.
The district has said that it will prioritize bringing students in first grade or younger or who have disabilities back for in-person instruction. That’s estimated to be 10,500 students, according to a staff presentation.
But it’s unclear how many students will actually return in January as SFUSD is still developing a survey for families to determine interest in returning to the classroom.
Some students may be in the classroom daily while others could have a hybrid schedule. About 11 schools would first open for a full day, followed by 27 sites.
“We are moving steadily toward progress,” said Mele Lau-Smith, who directs SFUSD’s office of community schools and family partnerships.
SFUSD will launch another dashboard this week on the planned second group of students to return to in-person instruction, which includes homeless and foster youth as well as students with limited online engagement,
All buildings for the first phase of students could be assessed for potential reopening by the fall break, which is sooner than expected, said Chief Facilities Officer Dawn Kamalathan. How they are prepared to allow for adequate air circulation and safe lunch breaks depends on site plans, which are also being developed and will depend in part on how many students ultimately return in person.
SFUSD has enough custodial staff to meet safe cleaning guidelines for up to 15,000 students daily, which is enough for the first phase, but will be a challenge if more students return to school, officials said.
“It’s an important factor and constraint for our operations,” Kamalathan said.
A goal to acquire a three-month supply of cleaning materials, as well as thousands of partitions to complete the PPE stockpile, should be met in the next couple of weeks, Kamalathan added.
Testing and agreements with labor unions are major items on the checklists needed before students are allowed back. SFUSD on Tuesday put forward an agreement with Curative Labs to provide testing for employees that would not bill the district even for workers without medical insurance.
The City may also help with costs and managing test results, Board President Mark Sanchez told the Examiner on Monday. He added that a major sticking point in labor negotiations is the frequency of testing, currently recommended to take place every two months per state guidelines.
Bargaining is ongoing with multiple unions.
“Every union is doing its part by being available for negotiations so that we can continue to partner and make sure our kids are well-served, whether by distance learning or in-person,” said Susan Solomon, president of United Educators of San Francisco.
A previous estimate from August showed it could cost up to $84 million to bring back students with more educators, custodial staff, school buses and other precautions. SFUSD recently renewed efforts to raise funds for reopening through Spark* SF Public Schools, raising more than $40,000 so far. The district previously raised $10.7 million to close the digital divide, according to district spokesperson Gentle Blythe.
The work toward reopening comes as cases are surging nationwide and also rising to a lesser degree in San Francisco. Mayor London Breed and Public Health director Grant Colfax announced Tuesday they would pause reopening for high schools and shut down indoor dining in an effort to keep cases under control.
The Board of Education will hold a special meeting Tuesday and vote on the resolution that sets a due date for the broader reopening plan.