Beginning Monday, youth dance classes will have to move online or outdoors. They've been open for the past 5 months, but the health department says they can't have indoor classes and haven't been allowed to since mid-August.
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City Ballet Executive Director Ken Patsel said for the last five months, dance classes have operated indoors, without incident.
However, on Thursday, he received an email from the City Attorney's Office saying youth classes must meet only outdoors or online.
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"We're one of the safest cities. We've done better and worked harder, worn our masks," Patsel said. "We've done everything that we were asked to, we've complied to every letter of the law. And this is what we get repayment for, that's how we feel."
While other sectors have been granted a long list of new reopening guidelines, the e-mail Patsel received pointed to directives specifically related to sports and exercise.
The e-mail signed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Deputy City Attorney Megan Ryan reads in part:
"We represent the City and County of San Francisco, including its Health Officer, who has issued the Health Order referred to above and related health orders and directives to protect the residents of this City during this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. We are writing to San Francisco dance studios to clarify the effect of the Health Officer's orders on the programs that youth dance studios may offer.
Most importantly, the Health Officer has determined that dance studios cannot provide indoor dance classes to youth at this time."
"This is so devastating," Patsel said. "It's just, it's been a lifeline to these kids who have not been able to socialize with kids their age."
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The e-mail continued, "We acknowledge that there has been some confusion and conflicting information whether such indoor dance classes would be allowed under Health Office Directive 2020-21d, which governs Out of School Time programs ('OSTs'). You can read Directive 2020-21d in full here.
The Health Officer has reviewed this issue and has determined that indoor dances classes are not allowed under OSTs, because, as Directive 2020-21d provides at pages 13 and 14, all 'sports, physical conditioning, and training must occur outside.'"
"The Health Officer has considered the health and safety issues and has determined that dance is included in this category of activities that must occur outside," it added.
When asked about the possibility of moving classes outdoors, Patsel told ABC7 News, "That opens the door to injuries and dancing in the cold, and of course we have the rainy season about to come. I mean it's not practical, nor is it realistic."
Patsel said he's received no prior warnings and must comply by Monday or risk getting shut down.
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"The Department of Health has now put us in with athletics," he explained. "We are going to no longer be able to hold in person classes. And well, I have to, unfortunately, deliver this news via e-mail tonight."
Patsel is preparing to inform between 90-100 ballet students, 35 of which are already attending classes through Zoom.
"So what we did, back when the pandemic started, and we were able to, under the city's guidelines, open up classes for in person classes. We were only allowed a certain number of students in classes," he explained. "We were given guidelines to post and we did that virtually on a daily basis. We've been doing that since June."
He added, "We've danced through the red tear, the orange tier and the yellow tier."
His message to City Ballet families, "I understand how hard you've worked for all of this, and how devastating this news is. We hope that it's short lived, and we're just going to pray that somebody reconsiders. And I will do everything within my power to fight for that."
ABC7 News has reached out to the San Francisco City Attorney's Office and received the following statement:
"We understand people are making sacrifices in this difficult time. Indoor youth dance classes have not been allowed to operate in San Francisco since mid August. It's unfortunate that some may have reopened indoor classes for youth in violation of the Health Officer's order. The City's approach to enforcement throughout this pandemic has been to first educate people about what the Health Officer's orders require. That's what these letters were designed to do. We understand some people may be mistaken or confused. Indoor youth dance classes have not been allowed to operate since the Health Officer first issued the Out of School Time Program Health Directive (now No. 2020-21d), which governs extracurricular programs for youth, including youth sports and exercise. These letters are designed to educate business owners where the City was concerned that they may not understand what the Health Officer's order requires. Outside youth dance classes are allowed provided they follow the other guidelines in the Out of School Time Program Directive."
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