SAN FRANCISCO — Teachers organized a walk-in yesterday morning at various school sites before school hours with specific demands for safer conditions in classrooms and for fully staffing of their faculties. Many school sites are keeping their windows open while class is in session and students are required to wear their masks indoors. But for the teachers who must have close contact with dozens of people daily, this isn’t a long-term solution.
“I have students who sit near the windows and they want to close them, but we can’t close them because of the pandemic and lack of proper ventilation,” said Dante Popalisky, who’s a math teacher at George Washington High School, and part of the SF Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (SF MORE) and United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), which represents teachers in the entire school district. “I was teaching in a beanie and a heavy hoodie for most of the past two weeks because it was just too cold for anything else.”
Popalisky also said his classrooms are generally full and can range between 25 to 36 students per class, which is a pre-pandemic level of density and jeopardizes both the learning and health of the students.
According to the UESF’s latest press release for this action, they had three specific demands at their rally on August 31: universal weekly COVID-19 testing for students, teachers, and staff, air purifiers in every school space, and provide high-quality masks for all students and staff The lack of response from SFUSD, San Francisco Department of Public Health, and City Hall to these demands is what led to this walk-in.
As of September 20, the SFUSD is distributing and deploying over 3,750 portable air cleaners (PACs) to school sites considered in their first wave. Right now, the five school sites that staged the walk-in—George Washington High School, Francisco Middle School, Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8, June Jordan School for Equity, and Dolores Huerta Elementary School aren’t on that list.
“We are continuing to prioritize and invest in COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including providing PPE to every school site, operationalizing one of the largest COVID-19 testing efforts in San Francisco, and hosting vaccine clinics at school sites,” said SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick.
However, it’s not clear if all these efforts are actually taking place at every school site.
Teachers that are asking for air purifiers aren’t solely focused on getting them to protect their students from COVID—they’ve been concerned about air quality due to wildfires, as well.
“We really need up-to-date HVAC systems that can do air filtering and ventilation even without extra purifiers,” said Popalisky. “When the smoke comes, it’s going to be too late. They need to have air purifiers installed and ready to go when that time comes.”
Popalisky also wanted this walk-in to not only amplify these demands, but to also alert parents that may not be aware of these conditions.
“We wanted parents to know the conditions that our kids are learning in and give them the opportunity to voice their concerns to our superintendent, the administrators, the school board, and the people who make the decisions at SFUSD. The goal was to not cause a disturbance while still making sure that families are aware of the conditions, and we just want everyone to know and build solidarity amongst our staff.”
Photo by the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF)