San Francisco Unified School District building. (Photo by Ciphers via Wikipedia)

Although San Francisco’s public schools remain closed as COVID-19 continues to surge throughout the state, San Francisco Unified School District officials on Tuesday announced new city funding to support COVID-19 testing for district employees.

The increased funding and support comes as the district announced last week it would not start reopening schools next month as previously planned due to failed negotiations with labor unions representing teachers and other staff over safety measures.

“We know that getting our students safely back in the classroom is an absolute top priority for our city and our school district right now,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “While we all need to continue to do our part right now to get this current surge under control, we also need to keep moving forward and putting the pieces in place to support our schools reopening next year, including having the right testing program.”

The new funding will come from the city’s Department of Children, Youth and their Families and will support surveillance testing provided by the city’s Latino Task Force.

“We are grateful for the expertise and additional resources provided by the mayor, the city agencies and the Latino Task Force to help us meet the new demands of operating schools during the pandemic,” SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews said. “Surveillance testing of our staff is key to being ready to serve students in-person.”

In addition to the Latino Task Force, testing will be provided by biotechnology company Curative Inc.

Initial testing will take place at the district’s main office at 555 Franklin St. and will later expand to more sites. Staff at elementary schools slated to reopen would be prioritized for testing, district officials said.

Under the district’s initial reopening plan, in-person learning was to resume on Jan. 25 for preschoolers, kindergarteners and first-graders, as well as students in special education and deaf and hard of hearing programs, with all students being placed in small cohorts.

However, earlier this month, the unions, which include the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 among others, cited concerns about resuming in-person learning just as the city and state experience an unprecedented rise in COVID-19 cases. Among the unions demands are a detailed health and safety plan for staff; robust testing of students and staff as well as contact tracing protocols; and free rapid testing for anyone exhibiting symptoms.

At the time, the district said it couldn’t meet all of unions’ demands and couldn’t finish bargaining by the proposed reopening date.

Union officials have said they will continue to push for resolution so that staff and students can return to classrooms.