On the first day back from the winter break, San Francisco schools struggled to return to normal, as an omicron surge has the city strained to provide sufficient Covid-19 testing resources. Schools across the district saw staffing shortages and worried parents.
District spokeswoman Laura Dudnick said that 400 out of the district’s 3,600 teachers were absent today for the first day back at school — more than 10 percent.
At Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8, principal Claudia DeLarios Moran said that nearly half of her staff was absent today, an unprecedented number. “The real problem is, the reason we’re in this horrible crunch, is because we’re not getting substitutes. So we only have two substitutes, out of 23 vacancies,” she said.
“We are actively recruiting substitute teachers as we don’t have enough substitutes to meet the number of absences,” Dudnick said. To make ends meet, credentialed teachers who serve other roles are being pulled in to cover classes.
And those being called upon to substitute are often those who provide extra support to students who need it. Librarians, counselors and even other employees of the San Francisco Unified School District are lending their support to keep classes running, DeLarios Moran said, but this is not sustainable.
“So we are holding it together. But it’s very, very hard,” DeLarios Moran said. “We’re keeping our community safe, but it’s at the expense of our most vulnerable students.”
And, with rising case rates, many students also stayed home for the first day of school, either because they tested positive or just to be safe.
“Our attendance rates [today] are significantly lower than normal,” said DeLarios Moran. She said the school’s phones were ringing “off the hook all morning” with calls about students testing positive or parents simply concerned about sending their children back to school amid a covid surge. The school is in need of all the essentials, she said: masks, testing and teachers.
Yesterday, SFUSD began its first day of its “mobile rapid testing program” in partnership with the testing organization Safer Together, one day before school started, Dudnick said.
Dudnick said more than 1,000 rapid tests were administered at SFUSD headquarters at 555 Franklin St. yesterday, and at-home rapid tests were disseminated there as well. The school district has more than 57,000 students, and it is unclear how many were actually tested before returning to school.
Additional testing was available this morning at different sites around the city, but these sites are often inaccessible to students who live outside the neighborhood or have limited access to transportation.
Elisabeth Moran said her 7-year-old nephew, who attends George Moscone Elementary School at 2576 Harrison St., got tested after the holidays at one of the sites the school district recommended, but said there is a need for testing on-site at the schools themselves.
Andioneth Rodriguez, who also has a 7-year-old daughter at Moscone, said her daughter hadn’t been tested since the school provided testing two weeks ago. Since her family stayed home for the holidays, she wasn’t worried that her daughter was exposed, but was under the impression that those who traveled would receive a test.
But this is not the case. The school district did not require or systematically provide covid tests to students returning to school today. Most of the sites the district recommended to get tested in recent days were located far outside of the Mission District.
Grenisha Gibson, a mother of two students at César Chávez Elementary School, at 825 Shotwell St., said she’s worried about her kids coming back to school. “So I told them to keep social distance, wash their hands,” she said.
Another parent waiting for her son outside of Moscone this afternoon exclaimed that “of course!” she is worried about her child being at school right now. Her entire family gets tested regularly at Kaiser, but she said, “If the school could hold the tests inside the school, it’d be better … easier for us, the parents.”
“We are in a crisis. And we are doing crisis response. But this is not this cannot be the new normal,” DeLarios Moran said. “We need more support. And so we will do this as long as we can, but it’s not a real solution.”
Some private schools, meanwhile, have the resources the SFUSD is lacking. Becky Barmore, the secretary of the Synergy School, a private nonprofit K-8 school at 1387 Valencia St., said this morning that the entire school was tested for covid — all 185 students. When asked, she wasn’t sure where the testing kits came from.
Valentina Imbeni, the principal of La Scuola, an Italian Immersion School with a campus at 3250 18th St., said the school’s protocol includes testing after travel and holiday breaks, so about 300 students were tested to be on campus today.
But Imbeni said testing scarcity and staffing issues have affected her school, too. “We are lucky to have some [tests] left that the state had supplied, but we are quickly running out with no resources to backfill,” she said. Five of her nearly 75 local staff members were out for covid-related reasons today, but a longer-term need for substitute teachers has the school contracting with external agencies and shifting around faculty internally to meet staffing needs.