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San Francisco wants students tested before their return, but kits are hard to find


We're entering a tense weekend for a lot of families across this country. Many are supposed to have kids return to school as soon as Monday or a few days after that. The first question is, will school really open? The second question is, can kids get a coronavirus test, as many schools do require? Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman reports from KQED in San Francisco.

AZUL DAHLSTROM-ECKMAN, BYLINE: When Cari Cymanski took her first grader to get tested earlier this week, she found the site closed. She checked her phone.

CARI CYMANSKI: Drop-in had exceeded capacity for the day, and there were no longer any drop-in tests available.

DAHLSTROM-ECKMAN: The following day, she found another site had closed early. The next day, when she found an open site, there was a long line, and it was raining.

CYMANSKI: I was without an umbrella or a rain jacket for my kids, and I was unwilling to wait in a God-knows-how-long a line in the freezing rain.

DAHLSTROM-ECKMAN: Parents and teachers have been increasingly frustrated about what they say is an inadequate plan to test schoolchildren before the start of the new term. During the break, on December 22, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced test kits would be provided to every student in the state before classes resume. But those test kits still haven't arrived.

Laura Dudnick is the spokesperson for the San Francisco Unified School District. She says they're expected to show up sometime next week at the earliest, after classes are set to begin.

LAURA DUDNICK: So right now, we're mobilizing quickly to coordinate how we're going to distribute those kits with the limited staffing resources that we have.

DAHLSTROM-ECKMAN: The only district-specific testing offered before classes start is this Sunday. But across the bay in neighboring Oakland, the school district sent students home with test kits to use over the break. That's something that San Francisco could've done, too, says Cassondra Curiel, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, a union that represents school workers.

CASSONDRA CURIEL: Oakland had a plan. They already had the test kits. And they implemented their plan.

DAHLSTROM-ECKMAN: Curiel is worried that without adequate testing, this coming Monday could become a mass exposure event in San Francisco schools. But the test kits in Oakland are not among those promised by Governor Newsom. Michelle Smith McDonald with Alameda's Office of Education says those tests are part of an earlier effort by the state to expand testing.

MICHELLE SMITH MCDONALD: Oakland got their tests before the break because they were part of the pilot.

DAHLSTROM-ECKMAN: The San Francisco Department of Public Health said in a statement that in-person learning is safe and that schools have remained low-risk settings by following proper safety protocols, such as social distancing and masking.

For NPR News, I'm Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNWED SAILOR'S "JEALOUS HEART") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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