SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — Hundreds of San Francisco Unified School District teachers and aides were out of school on Tuesday amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, according to the teachers’ union that is criticizing the district’s handling of testing for the virus.

Classes resumed this week at schools in San Francisco after the winter break, but more than 620 staff members were out on Tuesday alone, according to the teachers’ union, United Educators of San Francisco.

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There were only 157 substitutes available, so district employees with a teaching credential were ordered to take a class, including the district superintendent.

There were 693 requests for substitutes Wednesday at schools across the district, SFUSD spokeswoman Laura Dudnick said.

The challenge being faced by the district is trying to keep kids, teachers, and families safe while also maintaining the value of in-person learning.

“I think they learn much more in person, having their teacher with them,” said West Portal Elementary School parent Logan Truman. “Both my kids are vaccinated now, and if they wear their mask and keep their distance they should be fine. We’ve so far been fine.”

Union officials say the district did not develop an adequate plan to handle the latest surge of COVID-19 cases and did not require students and staff to show a negative test result before returning to campus, as some other districts have done. They also accuse the district of not having a plan to distribute a shipment of COVID tests set to arrive from the state later this week.

“It’s only been three days. This is the third day of the week and it feels unbearably long,” said United Educators of San Francisco President Cassondra Curiel.

United Teachers of San Francisco is asking San Francisco Unified to up their game during the surge by providing better masks and more efficiently distributing home-testing kits.

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“We know in-person teaching is the best, but it has to be safe in order for the system to work,” explained Curiel.

The union was scheduled to hold a briefing at noon Wednesday to discuss the issues related to the COVID surge and how they plan to help distribute the tests to students and staff.

SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews released a statement regarding COVID-19 safety protocols Wednesday afternoon.

“SFUSD continues to follow public health guidance and schools have remained low-risk settings by following proper safety protocols. In-person learning offers the best form of instruction for our students, and even as the pandemic continues, we believe school remains a safer place for our students considering the harmful effects of social isolation and learning loss,” Matthews said.

“We have been operationalizing one of the largest COVID-19 testing efforts in San Francisco and have made reliable testing regularly available to students and staff since last spring,” the statement continued. “As we returned from winter break this week, we encouraged testing, set up new testing sites and sent out information about numerous ways to get tested prior to school reopening. Throughout this week and this weekend we are making rapid testing available at several schools and district headquarters.”

Matthews went on to say that the district had received additional testing kits late Tuesday that would be prepared for distribution to school sites, as well as additional PPE including surgical and KN95 masks.

“We know this is a challenging time for the community. Our staff and families have done a great job at following public health protocols and we plan to continue to follow guidance from public health experts,” the statement concluded. “This surge, while intense, is expected to be relatively brief and Omicron by all reports is more mild than other previous variants. We will get through this surge by continuing to get vaccinated, masking, staying home when sick, and testing.”

The statement also provided links to the SFUSD’s latest COVID-19 health and safety protocols and information on district-run testing sites.

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