Advocacy Safe Schools

Our advocacy for enhanced COVID-19 safety measures continues to pay off!

As many folks know, I have been asking for weekly testing availability in all schools since the beginning. As a matter of fact, when we were hearing staff plans to return to school, last December 2020, I made recommendations on masking, ventilation, outdoor space, and student testing.

Looking back… My December, 8, 2020 Proposal

On December 8, 2020, I sent an email to the Superintendent. In it I wrote:

“Hi Dr. Matthews,

Here are my suggested revisions. I have spoken with Dawn and she says this is doable with support from city and philanthropic partners. I have asked her to prepare a ballpark estimate to share at this Friday’s Joint Select Committee.

I also reviewed with Faauuga and Mark who are supportive of these recommendations. Mark brought up concerns about impacts to timeline. I maintain it’s doable for Wave 1 if we can move the RFP process forward quickly. We will need to secure monetary support to ensure we meet Wave 2 and 3 targets.

— Thank you,

Alison”

In my email, I proposed the following recommendations. I shared these proposals later that day, during a discussion with the full board on the district’s proposed plan to safely return to school:

My Recommended Revisions to SFUSD’s Return Safely to School Together Plan

Ventilation

“Ventilation plans must address air change rates and ensure all classrooms meet health and safety recommendations for air change rates (WHO recommends 6x per. hour, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJC1f7F4qtc SFDPH has recommended 4x per. hour .)

  • Provide mechanical ventilation in all schools to ensure air change rates are met in all classrooms (e.g. sets of “window fit” fans for in and outflow)
  • Develop a plan for outdoor classrooms in spring (especially for upper elementary, middle and high school) to expand safety and capacity
  • Develop a plan for upgrades to HVAC systems (and lead abatement) in the fall and as bond programs allow.

Video on microdroplets:
https://twitter.com/drericding/status/1280708110127181824?s=21

Video on ventilation:
https://twitter.com/drericding/status/1334638682414985217?s=21

Masking & SFUSD Community Pledge

  • Require masking for all students PreK through 2nd grade. Monitor “enforcement” to ensure it is developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive, and does not result in unequal or inequitable implementation (e.g. monitor disaggregated data). [This was in addition to SFUSD staff’s original guidance based on prior SFDPH guidance of only requiring students grades 3-12 to wear masks.]

Video on masking:
https://twitter.com/drericding/status/1280330714521702411?s=21

  • Have all families sign SFUSD Community Pledge before returning. Remove “Be kind”. Replace with more concise language. I’d like PAC leaders and Board members to review what goes into this category. Maybe replace with “Be caring and compassionate”. Review policy with labor and families before implementing.

Surveillance Testing

  • Ensure testing is available for staff and students at least once per week on demand. Ensure there is coordination with City agencies to provide support for staff and families who test positive or who are identified for quarantine.”

Our discussion resulted in recommended enhancements

After a discussion with colleagues on the board and with staff, several things happened.

SFDPH adjusts its reccommendations on masking

Interestingly, the SFDPH decided to follow my lead and expand masing requirements from grades 3-12 down to include kindergarten. This is just one of many examples of the ways that the SF Department of Public Health has followed our lead. (Actually, this is more a result of me following the lead of national epidemiologists and World Health Organization experts.) As a Board, we decided to expand these requirements to pre-K.

Enhanced ventlation is agreed to as a “goal”

After further discussion, board members also agreed that we would make a “good faith effort” to enhance ventilation, though we decided NOT to make reopening contingent upon it. As a result of this early advocacy, Chief Kamalanation was able to begin the long process of working with DPH to get recommendations on ventilation and air purification systems. As a result, we were able to “act quickly” to get PUCs in all classrooms early this year after many families voiced concerns about conflicting recommendations to “keep windows open” for COVIC-19 safety, while at the same time recommending we “close windows” when forest fire smoke makes air quality unsafe for students, and especially those with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Access to student surveillance testing is highlighted – partnership is key

I asked superintendent Matthews to reach out to San Diego to see how they were making student testing available. Chief Menezes outlined challenges to billing insurance and the costs associated with that. President Sanchez asks about potential partnerships with UCSF and others. Chief Lau-Smith spoke about partnerships with SF DPH and additionally articulates that continue to “work on it.” All commissioners agree that there is no way to carry this work on our own.

If you are interested in hearing my original proposal for enhanced masking, ventilation, and testing and the board discussion that ensued, I have included a clip here. (If you want to see the full meeting you can view it here. This clip starts at 3:47:39.)

Continued progress on testing and vaccination

Due to our ongoing advocacy, this fall with the introduction of the Roadmap to COVID Safety Resolution we have continued to make progress in keeping our kids, families, and staff safe as we return to school! As you know, this fall our advocacy resulted in the SFUSD distributing Portable Air Cleaners (PUCs) to all classrooms in the district. This week, I am working with President Lopez to meet with Superintendent Matthews to present a revised resolution incorporating updated language that reflects district progress, changes in state policy (e.g. Governor Newsom’s mandates on staff and student vaccinations), and shifts in state and local health guidance.

In the meantime, I want to thank families and educators for the recent expansion in testing via district locations (as of last week!) Due to this advocacy, we now have new testing locations added. With flu season coming, and until we have defeated this pandemic, I believe we should continue this push for testing access in more locations and outside of school hours (when many families work).

Since the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, SFUSD has expanded COVID-19 testing and vaccination:

COVID-19 Testing offered via SFUSD

No child should miss school because their families are responsible and keep them home due to a runny nose from an allergy. Regular testing Is one way we keep our schools, families, and communities safe and keep kids in school and classrooms open.

More resources:

Get vaccinated!

At the beginning of this month, California became the first state to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for students.

Students will be required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span (7-12 and K-6).

— Office of CA Governor Gavin Newsom

Until this happens, getting those of us who can currently be vaccinated is the key to keeping our communities safe while we wait for the FDA to officially approve vaccines for children under 12.

Vaccination resources:

Answers to family questions

As a result of our advocacy for more communication with families, there is now updated information for families on the SFUSD website:

Please share with families and educators In SFUSD! Keep advocating! And, Stay Tuned!

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