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Health Inspectors Evaluate San Francisco Schools in Advance of Reopening

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Back-to-school health inspections are now underway in San Francisco.

KPIX was on the grounds of The San Francisco School Thursday afternoon as officials with the San Francisco department of public health (SFDPH) inspected the facility.

"I feel like we're almost as ready as can be [to reopen]," said Steve Morris, head of school at the San Francisco School, a private school with students from pre-school through 8th grade. Preschool classes have already been in session on the campus.

With the health department's blessing, this school plans to bring back its younger students soon.

The inspectors worked down a checklist. Hand sanitizer is abundant as is other protective equipment and cleaning supplies. Windows can be opened. Students will be divided into cohorts so that, if one gets sick, only that cohort will quarantine instead of the entire school.

The primary focus is on masking and distancing.

Health Department officials measured from chair-to-chair to make sure students will be seated six feet apart.

There was also an intense interest among the inspectors in maintaining proper distance between students and their teacher.

"There is no such thing as zero risk with COVID," Ana Validzic, an SFDPH Covid command team leader. "This is just about mitigating that risk and we want to make sure that the staff is protected as much as the students."

Validzic said the health department has learned a lot about the virus since March when educators were more worried about cleaning surfaces.

"With our conversations with school administrators, we have told them that they can do a routine cleaning but it doesn't necessarily need a quote-unquote 'deep cleaning' but they do need to focus more on face coverings, physical distancing, limiting the amount of sharing," Validzic said.

Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California San Francisco, said he is generally comfortable with efforts to get younger students back to school, as long as officials keep following the science.

"What we know is that children under 10 are less likely to be infected. If they are infected they're less likely to be sick," Rutherford said. "I think we're doing it pretty carefully, especially for elementary school kids. I do worry more about high school and middle school kids. You get older, you become much more social. You take your mask off you try to be cool. Those are all potentially problematic behaviors in terms of transmission."

The San Francisco School, once approved, would be one of the first schools in the city to bring students back and there will be a lot for them to learn about. For example, the new "silent lunch" protocol. No talking during lunch break because masks are off when kids are eating.

"Kids need to be back in school," said Morris, who hopes to have students back by the beginning of October. "The light bulbs need to back on for their social-emotional health as well as their learning."

So far, more than 70 private and parochial schools are in the process of requesting reopening for in-person learning in the city. The public schools in the San Francisco Unified school district have not yet announced any timetable for reopening.

In a statement, Laura Dudnick, a SFUSD spokesperson said, "SFUSD has been preparing for a gradual return to a hybrid instructional model focusing first on our youngest students, students with disabilities in moderate/severe special day classes as well as homeless and foster youth and those who have shown the lowest overall online engagement. In order to reopen schools, SFUSD has several factors that need to be in place including having a testing plan, training staff, informing students and families of protocols, a minimum of three months supply of PPE for all participating staff and students and labor agreements."

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