Schools Need Weekly Testing and Masks for Students and Staff
The Omicron surge has focused national and local conversations back on school reopening. In San Francisco, too, it’s clear that other districts are responding better to the surge. Los Angeles, the second-largest district in the United States, has figured out how to test all their students on a weekly basis. Oakland and Marin sent home at-home COVID-19 tests before the winter break so students could test before their return. We should be learning from them.
I am hearing a flood of concerns and questions. People worry and lack confidence in the district. They need information and answers. A lot of people are asking whether schools should close while we figure things out. These questions are worth asking.
Right now, though, there are two concrete steps that are clear. First, we should be doing weekly testing for students and staff at all school sites. Parents who are keeping kids home who are not sick will feel much better if we have this in place. Second, we need to give out high-quality daily disposable KN-95 masks for all staff and students. If the schools say “you should wear masks”, then the district should provide them.
There has been a conversation going on to downplay the risk of Omicron. The implication is that everything is fine and people should all get used to the risks. But everything is not fine. It is not a time to downplay the risk of death for those who are vulnerable. If a student or a teacher gets the virus and passes it on, then that’s too high a price. And numbers show those burdens fall harder on people of color, low-income people, and students with disabilities.
I’m a school board leader. And there has been conversation lately describing me as a fear-monger. But the truth is, this is not the time for sniping back and forth. It is time for school leadership, teachers, and parents to work together to face this challenge.
The school board passed a resolution in October directing staff to prepare for a surge. It included a directive for plans for increased testing. It included plans for better ventilation, contact tracing, support for outdoor lunch/learning, and high-quality masks. I reached out to Dr. Vincent Matthews ten days ago to request an emergency meeting on the surge. I wanted to provide a forum for concerned parents, students, and staff to figure things out. But there was no response to my meeting request.
It’s time we all come together and meet the moment. This means the Board, SFUSD, City Hall, DPH, partners, parents, educators, and school staff. How we respond in this moment should be of urgent interest to the entire citywide community.
How this Board votes today on new leadership should be of concern. Several of my colleagues have repeatedly advocated for opening schools without safety measures that other Bay Area districts have put in place to keep their students and staff safe.
This is an educational state of emergency. We need SFUSD leaders to look to working models in our neighboring Bay Area school districts. The teacher shortage is unimaginable. Parents are keeping their children home as they scramble around to find testing. Classrooms are one-half to one-third-full at many school sites. And a large number of teachers are at home sick with COVID-19 or awaiting long delays in test results. We can’t go on like this. Something needs to change.