San Francisco health officials release school reopening guidelines amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Thursday, July 9, 2020
More than 3,000 attend SFUSD virtual town hall after guidelines released for possible fall return to school
More than 3,000 people attended a virtual town hall with San Francisco Unified Schools District after health officials released interim guidance for returning to school.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco health officials on Wednesday released interim guidance to prepare to welcome students back to school, possibly in the fall, if conditions allow amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED: Expect face masks, social distancing, possible 'hybrid' learning when kids return to classrooms, CA superintendent says

Schools in San Francisco closed their doors in March.

"Drawing from the latest data and science, this guidance provides detailed advice on how to reduce the spread of COVID-19 for the entire school community - students, families, teachers and staff," said Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of Health. "If everyone does their part by wearing a face covering, practicing social distancing and washing their hands, that will contribute to our progress and to our hope that schools can reopen with modifications."

RELATED: How big will class sizes be in California schools? State superintendent predicts 10 to 15 students

Guidance includes the following:

  • Required use of face coverings for staff and students of all ages while on campus
  • Recommends stable student cohorts, physical distancing, maximizing outdoor space and limiting non-essential staff and visitors to prevent COVID-19 transmission
  • Arrange desks so they all face the same direction
  • Measures regarding hand washing, healthy hygiene practices, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
  • Reduce hallway traffic by having teachers rotate through classrooms instead of students
  • Prioritize bringing back " students who are likely to experience the greatest negative impacts from not being able to attend school in-person"
  • Consider asking students who travel out of the area to self-quarantine at home for 10 to 14 days before coming back to class
  • Limit occupancy of bathrooms, locker rooms, other shared spaces
  • Recommends that each school have a designated COVID-19 staff liaison to be the single point of contact for questions or concerns around practices, protocols or potential exposure

The guidance was developed by DPH with input from SFUSD, the Archdiocese of San Francisco and independent private schools.

Schools are not yet allowed to reopen in the city.

You can see more details about the new guidance here.

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There's no doubt fall learning will look very different, whether it's distance learning, in-person instruction or a hybrid model combining the two.

"I think the upcoming school year is really going to test people's ideas of what equity really means," one elementary school teacher with SFUSD told ABC7 News.

VIDEO: Press conference regarding possible fall return to school for SFUSD

San Francisco Department of Public Health's Dr. Jeanne Lee provides details on reopening guidelines for schools.

She asked to remain anonymous, as she described the difficulty and contention behind deciding what might be best for parents, students and teachers.

Between colleagues, she said COVID-19 has brought a change in job expectations.

"Some teachers don't feel comfortable with technology. Some teachers don't feel comfortable having their image sort of recorded constantly," she explained. "Some people have immunocompromised family members at home or themselves are immunocompromised. So, sort of that tension is very real."

RELATED: Bay Area educators concerned after Pres. Trump pressures schools to reopen

While she explained she's ready to get back, the school district is hosting a series of virtual town halls to answer questions from families who aren't.

During Wednesday night's session, more than 3,200 people tuned in to the town hall livestream.

Using a program called Thought Exchange, viewers were able to share their concerns with district leaders.

SFUSD Board President Mark Sanchez, Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews, and an official from the SF Department of Public Health steered the conversation.

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen took to Twitter to express her frustration with the virtual town hall.

She wrote, "There are few institutions I love more than our public schools but this #SFUSD townhall isn't doing the trick. We are anxious, need to plan & you aren't telling us much to help us do that. Feels patronizing. U have a plan. Tell us what it is, let us ask questions & give feedback!"

Additionally, SFUSD is also allowing parents to answer school-specific surveys which explore what would be best for their student.

Questions related to the potential return to school in the Fall asked parents which approach they'd consider for their child, whether in-person, blended or online only.

RELATED: Here's what it might look like when Santa Rosa students go back to school

It asked parents to consider, "If necessary to modify school schedules, which of the following options would you support?" Responses included different options for a half day, full day, or other.

Superintendent Matthews said the district is taking feedback from both the surveys and town halls, and will use responses to shape a recommendation to the Board of Education.

"Who knows where we're going to be two weeks from now. So, we're making the best decisions to insure that everyone is as safe as we can possibly make them," he told viewers during the virtual town hall. "And to make sure that we're meeting the needs of our students, to get the highest quality education possible... And it's a difficult place to be in."

A spokesperson with SFUSD told ABC7 news, "SFUSD will share updates regarding plans for fall learning at the Board of Education meetings on July 14th and 28th. We are currently moving through a community process, including town halls and a family survey, where we are gathering a lot of input."

Additionally, SFUSD reported it has approximately 300 custodians. The district said it has at least a six-month supply of hand sanitizer and masks, and it continues to work on getting other COVID-19 supplies and equipment that it would need for in-person instruction.

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