Skip to main content

School district promises 10 Covid sick days for staff, expanded testing and masks in union agreement

The San Francisco Unified School District on Thursday promised to do its best to meet all of the demands of its unions at the end of a closed-door negotiation session, ending a weeklong standoff over Covid health and safety protocols. 

In an agreement between the district and its unions, including the United Educators of San Francisco, SFUSD promised to restore the Covid-specific sick leave allocated by the state last year and to work to make testing and high-quality face masks more available to staff and students.—essentially fulfilling the demands that the district’s unions—including the United Educators of San Francisco had laid on the table last week.

“Educators and all schools workers have been keeping our schools and communities safe in the midst of incredible challenges," UESF President President Cassondra Curiel wrote in a Tweet. "The agreement with SFUSD was won because of you all.

Negotiations stalled last week after the district offered just five days of sick leave and high-quality masks only for staff, which UESF declined. Meanwhile, Covid cases in local schools are spiking to an all-time high, with 1,424 positive cases recorded over the last two weeks, more than doubling the 647 total cases recorded in all of the fall semester. 

Hundreds of educators have been out of school due to Covid exposures, symptoms or positive tests. According to district numbers, 400 educators on average have been absent each day since Jan. 3, with 83% of students attending class. That’s up as compared to the normal 250- to 300 absences per day prior to the pandemic. Normal student attendance rates hover around 95%.

UESF blamed the current staffing and safety crisis on the district’s poor preparedness and communication, as teachers were left without necessary resources heading into winter break and the Omicron surge. 

"Our school district was not prepared to provide the kind of PPE necessary, they were not ready for the amount of testing, and we are seeing entire site collapses,” UESF President Cassondra Curiel said at a Thursday interview posted on UESF’s Twitter. 

At Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, SFUSD Chief of Student, Family and Community Support, Mele Lau-Smith, said the district was rejected from a state pilot program offering rapid antigen testing in the fall and attempted to get rapid test kits from the state to give out prior to the holidays, but was unsuccessful.

“The reason we were not able to have test kits was not for lack of trying or lack of planning,” Lau-Smith said.

A sign in the Mission District indicates a Covid testing site is designated for SFUSD staff and students only on Jan. 13, 2022. | Camille Cohen

Last week, a group of rank and file educators organized a “sick out” to protest a lack of masks and testing at school sites. Now, the group’s organizers are calling for a two-week pause of in-person learning until the district improves safety at school campuses. But the city and district have said they plan to keep schools open throughout the surge. SFUSD’s Chief General Counsel Danielle Huock said in order to close schools, the district would need to consult unions and could jeopardize its state funding that’s based on average daily attendance, which currently only counts for in-person learning.

The district announced this week it would send home to families 60,000 at-home test kits, most of which were supposed to arrive before winter break from the state, but were delayed due to winter storms. In a district press release announcing the agreement, SFUSD Communications Director Laura Dudnick wrote that union leaders recognized that global supply chain issues have hindered the district’s ability to get high-quality face masks to students and staff.

The district is also continuing to offer PCR and rapid testing sites at school locations citywide. Lau-Smith said none of the school-based sites run by testing company Color were affected by a systemwide outage that shut down six of the company’s sites across the city this week. But she said wait times for results have been affected, now up to around two to three days. 

Mayor London Breed also stepped in to help this week, announcing the city would give 500,000 surgical masks to students and 150,000 KN95 to staff.