The San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced the release of interim guidance to prepare to welcome students back to school, potentially in the fall, if conditions allow. While reopening is contingent on the containment of COVID-19 in the community and the authorization of the San Francisco Health Officer, the guidance outlines the health and safety practices needed to safely resume in-person, onsite instruction, and extracurricular activities at TK to 12 schools. Additionally, the document includes specific actions schools should take to respond to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.
“I know that many parents, caregivers, and kids can’t wait to get back to the routine and the supportive learning environment of our schools, but reopening depends on us and how successfully we are able to control the spread of COVID-19,” said Mayor London N. Breed. “The next several weeks are critical. We all need to follow the requirements to stay at least 6 feet apart, cover our faces when we go out, and practice good hygiene so that teachers and students can return to class.”
Schools in San Francisco were closed for in-person instruction in March 2020 due to concerns about COVID-19 transmission among both students and staff. Since then, the medical community’s understanding of COVID-19 has evolved rapidly. Although questions remain, studies indicate that children are less likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19, and less likely to spread COVID-19 compared to adults.
“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.”
The guidance emphasizes required use of face coverings to minimize dispersion of respiratory droplets that carry the virus. Additionally, it recommends stable student cohorts, physical distancing, maximizing outdoor space and limiting non-essential staff and visitors to prevent COVID-19 transmission, as well as measures regarding handwashing, healthy hygiene practices, cleaning, and disinfecting surfaces.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our district has worked closely with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to prioritize the safety and health of our students, families and staff,” San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews said. “As our district continues to plan for what learning will look like in the fall, we know this guidance will serve as a valuable tool in assessing the safest way for us to provide high-quality education and equitable support to each and every public school student in San Francisco.”
The guidance was developed by DPH with input from SFUSD, the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and independent private schools. It is informed by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the California Department of Education. The guidelines are one tool that schools will use to design their reopening plans. School buildings cannot reopen until a formal health directive is issued.
“We appreciate having local guidelines to help us plan for the year ahead and keep our students, faculty, and staff safe. We are eager to welcome everyone back to school,” said Lorri Durbin, Head of School at Town School for Boys.
The guidelines are designed to support planning efforts underway at public, independent, and parochial schools. “The schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco are working on their individual school plans that will be in compliance with all county health ordinances,” said Pamela Lyons, Superintendent of Catholic Schools.
The guidance 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.
Working closely with DPH, the school will develop a health and safety plan and offer training to staff and students on safety practices.
Additionally, they will work with DPH to support testing, case investigation and contact tracing strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including testing for staff or students, with parental consent.
Should a student or staff member test positive for COVID-19, DPH will work with the school to determine if their cohort needs to be quarantined or if the classroom or school needs to be closed.