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Reopening PHS

Reopening PHS

This page provides information and resources for Presidio Hill School families regarding the PHS reopening plan for Fall 2020. This page is updated regularly and was last updated September 14th, 2020. 

PHS has decided to reopen with distance learning on September 2nd, and we continue to make plans for all Fall possibilities–including on-campus learning, outdoor learning options, and a hybrid model. This page details the specifics of our distance learning and hybrid learning plans as well as protocols regarding our eventual return to campus for students and staff.

On September 14th, PHS submitted a Reopening Application to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. For our second rotation, which begins on September 28th and runs through October 21st, we hope to maintain distance learning primarily while also being able to begin to incorporate some outdoor learning activities in our neighboring, well-loved and deeply known local greenspace–the Presidio of San Francisco. Click here to see our full Application to Reopen.



FAQs for PHS families

These FAQs have been compiled from questions asked by parents/guardians in Town Halls, through surveys, and by email. These FAQs will be updated regularly and reflect our most current plans–changes may be made as information is updated. 

Will PHS apply for a waiver?

We do not currently plan to apply for a waiver to hold on-campus classes at this time. Waivers are required (and need to be applied for and approved) in order to hold any classes prior to the county coming off and staying off the state watchlist for 14 days. We do not feel comfortable at this time starting school on campus at any level while our county is still on the watchlist. We do not currently have adequate access to the testing and tracing requirements that would be necessary for us to include in a waiver application. We may need to apply for a waiver in order to hold in-person classes outdoors, such as in the Presidio, and we are working to get clarity around that–outdoor options are a priority for our school and we plan to incorporate them into our learning models when it is safe and possible to do so.

How will we decide to move from one learning model to another?

We have several criteria we are currently considering:

  • We will need to be off the state watchlist for 14 days and also be given official permission to open from the county health department without the need for an approved waiver. 
  • We will need to have enough critical mass in both our parent community and amongst our faculty/staff to support in-person learning. We believe we are likely to get that critical mass sooner when it comes to outdoor learning than we will with indoor learning. If we have just 50% of the families ready to send their children to school (spread out over LS and MS) and perhaps less than that in our faculty/staff, we will not be able to open and successfully run an on-campus program with our current level of staffing. We do not have a specific number in mind to reflect critical mass but we are thinking 70% to 90% of families and faculty and staff who feel at least reasonably comfortable. 
  • We will need to have enough time to both write our detailed protocols and to have tried out and practiced our protocols related to on-campus learning, after having completed all campus modifications, and allowing time for review, feedback, and revision from our full faculty/staff team and others, such as outside experts and/or task force members. We will not feel it is safe until we have really practiced thoroughly in our specific physical spaces.
  • We will need to feel that it is reasonably safe to re-open based on community spread, access to testing, and confirmation from the most up-to-date science-based research available at the time. As everyone knows, information about the virus, how it spreads, how children are affected by the virus and involved in transmission, continues to come out nearly every week. We are tracking this information and taking all science-based data into account. 

Each month we will assess (through conversations and surveys) where we are as a community in relation to maintaining everyone’s physical and mental health and peace of mind while dealing with this pandemic. We will also continuously assess relevant outside data and science-based information (SFPDH guidance, regional virus transmission numbers, access to testing and timing of testing results, etc.) 

We will continue to educate ourselves as administrators and provide further education, information and opportunities for questions and feedback for both our faculty/staff and for our families. We hope that as we continue to learn and consider our options together as a community, decisions will be made that everyone can support even if not everyone gets the decision they might personally prefer. For now, we do know our plans for the first two months of school, with rotation #1 in full distance learning and rotation #2 in distance learning as well, with the possibility of adding outdoor options.

Where is PHS financially? Have people left because of the pandemic? Is the school OK?

The school is currently in good shape. We have practiced very fiscally responsible financial planning and actions over the past decade and, just before the pandemic hit, we were starting to consider what we might be able to do with our more flexible resources after having built up our cash reserves and meeting the last of our bank covenants. We have had a notable but not devastating drop in enrollment. This drop is very clearly pandemic related. Families have had to make very tough choices. We originally budgeted for 225 students for this school year, and we are currently at 213 students. We have also added some new students this summer, which is why we are at 213 and not lower. We worked with families when the tuition cost and pandemic-related financial challenges were the primary issue, and we were able to increase our flexibility around tuition to some degree by utilizing our standard assessment tool which we use in our annual flexible tuition process. We expect that we will start the school year with around 209–214 students, and if this is the case, our budget will be fine with many minor and relatively painless adjustments. If we have additional attrition, which is not remedied by additional enrollment decisions, then we will need to look at bigger adjustments.

We applied for and received a PPP loan because we are, in addition to being a school, a small not-for-profit business and, as a business, it is our “customers”–our families–who provide us with the revenue from which we pay our employees and run our entire educational program, and we predicted that the uncertainty last spring might put us in a situation in which we were dealing with lower enrollment and consequently less revenue. This PPP loan will hopefully (and we believe likely) be forgiven in the fall, and these extra funds allowed us to keep all staff paid as expected without causing us to need to make any large cuts to our budget or our staffing, nor need to utilize our reserves and create a situation with the bank so early in this pandemic. We have recently reviewed our budget and have made some smaller adjustments in various areas without needing to cut any positions, put anyone on furlough, nor implement pay or program cuts. If our loan is not forgiven, we will need to make additional but not drastic cuts in order to pay it back (at a 1% interest rate.)

We also have additional expenses related to the pandemic. We have made additional necessary staffing hires (Distance Learning/Technology Coordinator and two support teachers thus far, and we may need more as the likelihood of in-person learning becomes closer to reality), campus modifications, furniture purchases and other health-related purchases for PPE, reimbursements for teachers for a portion of home internet access and needed ergonomic support, outside professional consultations and parent support resources, and more individual supplies for each student.

What is PHS' stance on pods for families?

Our school, like most others, has some very real concerns about learning groups hosted in homes. These concerns arise from two areas: 

Health and safety is the first concern–what information are families using to design pod protocols and how will they be able to ensure they are followed? Current guidance recommends everyone stay home and spend time only with their own household members as much as possible, leaving for necessary reasons only. For social gatherings, it is recommended by health authorities that they are limited, that masks are worn, social distancing is used, and that they happen outdoors as much as possible. We think creating pods may not make it possible to follow these community recommendations to the fullest extent. Additionally, there are potentially very real and community-damaging issues around equity and inclusion if such pods are formed. 

The school can not condone nor help with organizing or supporting home pods. SFDPH has released a tip sheet for parents and caregivers who are forming learning pods. They state: As of August 2020, indoor gatherings with people outside your household are not permitted. This tip sheet gives you information and resources to help you assess risks and benefits of joining a Learning Pod and provides guidance on reducing risks if you choose to participate.

Tip Sheet: Reducing COVID-19 Risks for Learning Pods:

Can you give some information about childcare options?

At this point, we are neither equipped for nor allowed to provide childcare on our campus for our students. Our staff will be fully occupied with providing a robust distance learning plan. We are allowed by SFDPH to consider providing on campus childcare for employees who are working from campus to support distance learning. The city/county are providing some options for childcare. DCYF is coordinating School Year Community Learning Hubs.  More info can be found here:

Do students in all grades need to wear face masks, or only older ones?

There is limited information as this virus is still relatively new. One study*points out that students ages 10 and up transmit the virus at levels on par with adult-to-adult transmission. Another study emphasizes the fact that younger children do not get sick as often or as seriously as adults. Another study shared that children ages 2-5 carry up to six times the amount of virus in their nasal passages as compared to older children and adults*. A very recent report also shared information about healthy children as possibly being very active transmitters, so of course we need to track the data as it is being released. 



Contact Tracing during Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, South Korea, 2020
Link to NY Times article re South Korea study
Mayo Clinic overview re illness in young children
Age-Related Differences in Nasopharyngeal SARS-CoV-2 Levels in Patients With Mild to Moderate COVID-19
Pediatric SARS-CoV-2: Clinical Presentation, Infectivity, and Immune Responses
Evidence grows that children may play a larger role in transmission than previously believed
High Viral Loads Make Kids 'Silent Spreaders' of COVID-19

What if there are teachers or other staff members who are in a high risk category or for other reasons do not feel safe coming onto campus even after there is enough critical mass in the community in support of coming back to school on campus?

We will work with each individual employee to first see if there are additional safety measures and protocols that could be put into place that would enable them to come to work once we are ready to do so and, if not, strive to find a way that they will be able to continue to work, although perhaps in a different capacity and contribute and support our school and our students’ learning. We know, for example, that even if we get to a point where 90% of our students are on campus, we will still need to provide for the 10% that elect to learn from home, so those staff members off campus will likely be instrumental in supporting that at-home distance program. This is also the recommendation in the SFDPH, that schools make modifications to staff roles as they are able to do.

What percentage of families wanting to do outdoor school be considered critical mass?

We will consider outdoor options even with 50% - 60% of families ready to have their children participate. The challenge will be in providing adequate staffing for safety while also providing the distance program for those who opt out of outdoor options. A likely scenario is that the outdoor times will run concurrently with asynchronous learning experiences for those who opt to stay home.

Can you elaborate on the SFDPH limitations?

Here are links directly to the SFDPH guidance we are using, if you’d like to see all the details: All documents are currently being translated and translations will be distributed as soon as possible. We have received some of the translated documents and will make those available soon.

Is there a plan to provide all students with the same device for distance learning?

Yes, all students will be provided with a Chromebook. If there are any tech concerns, from devices to internet connectivity, please reach out immediately to Javier and we will work with you to support you so your student/s have the access they need. The best way to reach Javier is

What are the expectations around absences and tardiness?

We are committed to both being flexible and also to having clear expectations. We know this is how students do best. There may be occasional times when a student is unable to attend a morning meeting or some other aspect of their school day. Please be in touch with the appropriate divisional director and/or teacher/s if your child needs to miss a part of class, or a day, and please know that it will be met with understanding and compassion. It would not be helpful to students to make a regular habit of missing any part of their scheduled days. Students (and all of us) will benefit from a combination of structure and flexibility.

How will teachers get to know their students over Zoom?

Teachers will each determine for themselves and are very good about finding ways to get to know their students, whether in distance learning or in person. Teachers in the lower school are also planning to host one-on-ones in the afternoon and small groups to get to know our students more closely. We also have been developing fun and engaging community building games for our morning meetings and closing circles in the distance learning format. Some highlights from our Ready, Set, Back-to-School program this summer included playing games like would you rather, get to know you surveys, etc.

What portion of the hybrid model would be outdoor?

We do not have an answer to that at this time. We are currently nailing down the specifics of our agreement with Rob Hill Campground and working with Colt to assist us in our planning and preparations. Right now, a week and half out from day one, nearly our entire focus is on our distance learning program, and we will further invest in our outdoor planning during the first rotation.

General On-Campus Protocols

Our goal is to have all students back learning at PHS (and in the Presidio!) and we have many new protocols to make sure our students, families, staff, and the greater San Francisco community are able to return to campus so that we can imagine, inquire, and create together safely. We are formulating plans in communication with public health officials and utilizing the guidance from health and educational authorities such as Centers for Disease Control (CDC), San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), California Department of Education (CDE), California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS), as well as our own educational expertise and feedback from our community. 

In order to provide safe on-campus learning, we will take precautions to minimize risk that will include those listed below. We have a shared responsibility to our students, staff, PHS families, and San Francisco community to minimize risk as much as possible both on and off-campus. Please make sure to follow all SFDPH recommendations to keep our full community safe and healthy. 

Note: These are our current understandings of best practice and as guidance develops or changes, our protocols may continue to evolve according to community health recommendations.

Stable Cohorts

We plan to have students in stable cohorts when they are on campus. Stable cohorts are a group of students who will stay together for their learning and break times while at school. Several teachers/staff members will be assigned to work with each cohort. Lead and assistant teachers will remain permanently with their cohort, while shared and specialist teachers and administrators may serve one to four separate cohorts.

Cohorts will have a classroom with outside air flow access, and each cohort's classroom will not be used by other cohorts.

Cohort students will not mix with other cohorts physically, though we will prioritize cross-grade and all-school virtual interactions. The size of the cohorts is a size of the lower school class or a middle school section, but physical distancing needs may see some cohorts spread through more than one classroom space. Classroom spaces will be announced once decided.

Daily Health Screenings

TBD - PHS will have a few questions for families to answer at the start of school daily. These questions may ask about virus exposure, symptoms, or fever for all students and staff visiting campus. A staff member will ensure that all students have completed the health screen questions and may do a temperature scan. 

Class and Campus Schedules (Including Drop Off and Pick Up Plans)

TBD - we currently plan to have a schedule that is close to a full day and will include extensive outdoor learning time, specialist classes, recesses, etc. We currently plan to have students stay in their cohort and classroom as much as possible; specialist teachers will have blocks of classes and will come to each classroom virtually or in person as is safe. We will have single cohort recesses and lunches. Our drop off and pick up times may be more stringent and we do plan to offer a version of PHS childcare.  Additionally, we will offer regular all-school and buddy meetings regularly - students will have the opportunity to engage with cross-grade friends and with the full community regularly.

Physical Distancing

Presidio Hill School has worked to safely space students and teachers in our existing spaces. By utilizing shared spaces and rearranging or reassigning existing classrooms, we will be able to have approximately 6 feet of space per person in each classroom. Additionally, there will be designated one-direction walking paths wherever possible, limits for the number of students in bathrooms or on shared campus areas, and classroom/ cohort specific sinks. 

Masks and Face Coverings

Masks will be required for all students. Currently, there is no plan for students to have out-of-mask time, though of course they may remove masks when they are eating snacks and lunches (lunches will be held outdoors as much as possible). Details about wearing masks during P.E., in the Presidio, and for our younger students will be decided soon. 

Handwashing and Sanitizing Protocols

TBD - Classroom specific plans, including details for where students at each grade level will be washing hands, will be shared soon. In general, students will be expected to hand sanitize when they enter the building and wash hands before and after all snacks, lunches, and recess breaks. Teachers will do a classroom cleaning/sanitization after every snack/lunch indoors.

Campus Cleaning and Sanitization

The PHS janitorial service are using a cleaning product specifically rated for COVID-19: Sani-T-10. We have expanded sanitization of shared and classroom spaces. More classroom-specific sanitization schedules will be shared when the classroom schedules are provided.

Sick Policy and Attendance

Attendance Notifications: In addition to staying home when ill or if you have reason to believe you may have been exposed to COVID-19, we ask that all families be very clear in their communications about why a student is absent from school. It will help us logistically if you report directly to Martin or your child’s teacher why your child is out so that we do not have to spend time following up. 

Please reach out to your teacher and/or division director for extended absence plans. 

Staff and Student Sick policy: Any students and staff members with cold and flu symptoms must stay home. Our goal is to keep all children, teachers, and staff as healthy as possible during this time and therefore follow the CDC guidelines. Please reference our sickness policy as detailed in the PHS Family HandbookWe ask that children be kept home from school when symptoms of illness first appear (runny nose, sore throat, diarrhea, fever, vomiting) and until your child is no longer contagious. Please wait until your child has been fever-free for 24 hours before sending them back to school.

We will share additional information about situations where students get sick while at school as those protocols are developed. 

Please consult directly with your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and/or have symptoms of respiratory illness.

Other Protocols

Additional protocols including those regarding time in the Presidio, for afterschool and enrichment, for sports teams, and about emergency planning will be shared soon.

Presidio Hill School is an inclusive community and COVID-19 does not recognize race, nationality, or ethnicity. Wearing a mask does not mean a person is ill. You can interrupt stigma by sharing accurate information. Please speak up if you hear, see or read misinformation or witness harassment or discrimination.