San Francisco teachers' unions, district reach tentative agreement over COVID protocol

San Francisco Unified School District on Thursday announced they have reached a tentative agreement with several teachers' unions over COVID health and safety protocol. 

The agreement allows for an additional 10 sick days for COVID-related reasons, provides high-quality masks for students and staff, in addition to surgical masks, and guarantees weekly COVID testing at all sites for students and staff who ask for it.

Rapid COVID-19 antigen tests.

The agreement includes four unions. One of those unions, United Educators of San Francisco, which represents more than 6,500 workers, gave thanks to the "enormous pressure" by educators and the public for what they consider a great win.  

"All of us want to be able to do our jobs so students can learn safely. We are proud of the big step forward that was made tonight," UESF President Cassondra Curiel said in part. 

The other unions in the agreement include; International Federation Professional Technical Engineers (IFPTE -Local 21), Service Employees International Union (SEIU - Local 1021), and United Administrators of San Francisco (UASF).

The return to class from winter break has gotten off to a rocky start to say the least. COVID's most contagious variant yet, omicron, was to blame for throwing the proverbial monkey wrench into any plans for a smooth, back-to-school transition. 

The variant that seems to have caught everyone by surprise has put a strain on just about everything including; hospitals, the airline industry, and suppliers trying to stock grocery store shelves. However, omicron has been an excellent unifier in one regard; it has exposed a mass unpreparedness across the board. It has proven to be a struggle to provide adequate COVID testing, and enough appropriate PPE to the labor sector and frontline workers. Workers are now demanding it. 

SF Unified returned to classrooms Jan. 3 but within days, teachers' unions said a walkout was possible if safe working conditions were not met. The COVID surge did not help staffing issues any, with nearly 20% of teachers calling in sick last week and substitutes in short supply. 

In a statement following the announcement of the tentative agreement, San Francisco Unified School District said they are distributing over 73,000 KN95 masks for school staff, equal to more than a one-month supply. But the agreement calls for one a day from the stock of higher grade masks and that they be fitted for students and staff. The mask supply is to continue through the end of July.

The district noted that they've been providing masks by the tens of thousands since they reopened for hybrid learning last spring, but admittedly those were surgical, cloth and in some instances, KN95s. With the new variant, health experts have widely updated their messaging to say that cloth masks don't cut it anymore and that you should upgrade to N95, KN95, or K F94 grade masks.

The agreement outlines that the additional sick days for COVID reasons cover isolation, quarantine, care of another person sick with COVID, if your child's school needs to close due to a COVID outbreak, and time waiting for a COVID diagnosis or test results. 

SFUSD noted the state provided districts with funding last year for COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave, but that funding has since been discontinued. 

"We remain committed to putting into place the highest safety standards and protocols at every campus," said SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews. "I’m grateful to our labor partners for their work in ensuring we can continue to support students where we know they learn and thrive best -- in school. We are glad to be able to provide additional sick leave in recognition of our employees’ ongoing commitment to the health and safety of our school communities."

The district said last week they delivered more than 46,000 Color PCR tests to school sites, with another 60,000 at-home test kits to be distributed this week. This in contrast to districts like Oakland, which proactively sent 41,000 at-home test kits to its students ahead of the winter break. 

"By the end of this week every student and classroom teacher will have a take home test kit for use in the event they are symptomatic or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive," the district assured. 

"We are pleased that the district has agreed to the terms the unions have worked tirelessly to get to. We hope that this agreement will be the protection our members need to be able to be safe at work, IFPTE Local 21 SFUSD Chapter President Jan Gyn said in part. "Unity and solidarity is how we were able to achieve high grade masks for students and staff, 10 days of COVID leave and weekly testing."