We are happy that students in San Francisco will be welcomed back to their classrooms as planned on January 3rd. Despite heightened anxieties with the current surge in cases, there is overwhelming evidence that school closures are harmful for children, and in-person learning is essential.
Covid is not going away. The Delta variant was significantly more contagious than the original strain, yet in-school transmission remained close to zero. With one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, proper mitigations, and minimal in-school transmission, the risks of returning to the classroom are manageable—whereas the risks of school closures to children are far too severe.
Schools continue to be the best and safest places for our children to learn. Closing our schools again is not an option.
In addition to returning our city’s students to their classrooms next week, SF Parent Coalition is calling on our City and School District to take immediate and decisive action to make our children’s health, wellbeing and access to education their collective first priority:
1. Increase access to testing for all students and staff
Governor Newsom announced (12/22) plans for distribution of rapid tests for all public school students across the state. We need to see these swiftly distributed to schools for use by symptomatic or potentially exposed students and staff. In addition, the City must prioritize SFUSD families and school staff for testing appointments before school reopens on January 3rd and during the month of January. We understand testing resources are limited, and also, that it is time to put our city’s children and their education first in line.
2. Implement Test to Stay / Modified Quarantine
SF Parent Coalition has been calling on SFUSD to implement the “test to stay” or “modified quarantine” strategy since August, an approach endorsed by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, CA Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that minimizes classroom disruptions due to COVID exposure.
When a student or teacher tests positive, current SFUSD policy is that all “close contacts” quarantine out of school. With “test to stay” or “modified quarantine”, close contacts remain in school and are tested twice. In two major studies shared by the CDC, Test to Stay did not increase transmission risk in public schools and greatly reduced loss of in-person school days. For example, In Los Angeles, schools without “Test to Stay” lost approximately 92,000 in-person school days to quarantine between Sept. 20 and Oct. 31, and had similar incidence of COVID-19 to schools who did not quarantine students.
We again call on SFUSD to put this policy in place immediately, and for the City to help make this a reality by providing support and necessary resources. Without this shift, we needlessly lock healthy students out of the classroom after a COVID exposure. We understand that implementing Test to Stay is operationally challenging, but with COVID here to stay, it is important to finally make this shift.
We reiterate that classrooms are the best and safest place for our children to learn. Closing schools again is not an option, and we continue to encourage SFUSD, SFDPH, and other city partners to do everything they can to keep our public school students learning safely in schools.