• Friday, August 21, 2020

Reopening CAIS - Weekly Update August 21

What Scares Me

Accomplished Chinese speakers often punctuate their speech with pithy, idiomatic four-word phrases that capture the essence of a situation. These phrases, called chéng yǔ 成语, often express universal truths and, as such, find expression in other cultures and languages. One such chéng yǔ is wáng yáng bǔ láo 亡羊补牢 which means to “mend the pen after a goat has already escaped.” We have a similar expression in English: locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. The universal wisdom expressed in Chinese, English, and many other languages is that people tend to learn lessons after it is already too late to prevent misfortune. I used to feel clever when I could use a Chinese chéng y to characterize something I had observed in real life. But now, the universality of wáng yáng bǔ láo worries me.

I am worried that people in our extended community may be letting their guard down—ignoring the breach in the pen or the lock on the stable door. How many people in our community are experiencing social distancing fatigue? Face covering fatigue? Frequent handwashing fatigue? As I think about all of you, your children, your families, your friends, your colleagues… I realize that our community reach is in the thousands of people. And my guess is that some of us are fatigued to the point of becoming less vigilant.  Or worse yet—let’s be honest—there may be some in our extended community who feel impervious, for whatever reason. Perhaps they have attended or organized a “socially distant dinner party,” enjoyed “socially distant drinks” with friends, or organized a “socially distant playdate,” and there have apparently been no negative health consequences—yet. So a false sense of security—perhaps even entitlement—settles in.  

When (and not if) we see positive cases of COVID-19 in our community, it will be too late to mend the pen, lock the stable door, or become more vigilant about distancing. We need to do it now. If this were not something we, as humans, had to worry about, then we would not see warnings about it so widely expressed over languages, cultures, and generations. For this generation, the implications of our behavior are far more serious than losing a goat or a horse; a lack of vigilance by one or a few individuals could spread throughout the whole community.  

With COVID-19, our community will be as strong as our weakest link. This means we all have to be strong links. I worry that for some, this will only become real when it becomes real. Let’s all agree to mend the pen before the goat gets away.

What the Heck is “OST”?

In the August 7 Newsletter I wrote about the boundary between those things that we as a school can require and those things over which we have no direct control. Another way to put this is that there is a line between what we can tell you to do and what we can only ask you or encourage you to do. My discussion of this topic was not clear or prescriptive enough for some, so I want to revisit it with a discussion of your children’s “OST” activities. OST is a term that the San Francisco Department of Public Health has coined—it stands for “out-of-school-time” and refers to programs such as soccer and dance that take place outside of school hours. The question we are hearing a lot from CAIS families is “are we allowed to take part in these programs?”

The answer is that the City and County of San Francisco has indicated that your children may take part in these programs, and there have been strict health and safety guidelines issued for their operation. CAIS’s answer is that we do not have the authority to require families not to take part in programs that SFDPH has approved. However, we can ask and encourage you to become familiar with the required best practices that these programs must follow. The legally binding directive and the accompanying guidance for OST programs was released a week ago and can be found here. Please familiarize yourself with the best practices in this document and ensure that your child’s program is following them strictly. If you decide to enroll your child in an OST program that is not adhering to required best practices, then we ask that you pull your child out. Choosing to ignore this important request for the school will endanger everyone in our extended community.           

iPods, uPods, wePods … How about NO Pods?

The last two weeks has seen a deluge of directives and guidance from the San Francisco Department of Public Health as we near the beginning of the school year. This has been useful to us at CAIS who have been guided in our planning all summer by an underlying philosophy that includes a commitment to basing our decisions on public health authorities. Just over a week ago on Thursday, August 13 the San Francisco Department of Public Health released a document entitled Tip Sheet: Reducing COVID-19 Risks for Learning Pods. DPH defines learning pods as “in person gatherings of children or youth from different households with one or more adult teachers, tutors, parents or caregivers for the purpose of receiving or facilitating educational instruction.”

We have received many inquiries from CAIS families about our school’s position on learning pods. In keeping with the commitment to follow advice from public health authorities, our position can be summed up fairly well in the language from the first page of the Tip Sheet which reads:     

As of August 2020, indoor gatherings with people outside your household are not permitted. Small outdoor gatherings are allowed while maintaining 6 feet social distancing and face coverings.

If you have any questions, please consult the SFDPH Tip Sheet.

“The Waiver”—More Fertile Ground for Misunderstanding

In July, Governor Newsom and the California Department of Public Health charged public health officials from each county to develop a waiver application process for elementary schools wishing to reopen for in-person instruction. The State also issued strict guidelines for developing the waiver application process that each county would have to meet. “The Waiver” has become a hot topic in school communities, with a spectrum of views ranging from hope for an early return to in-person instruction to fear of increased transmission risk if children and teachers return to classrooms.  

This past Wednesday night, August 19, Dr. Tomás Aragón, our City Health Officer, issued a letter to schools in the City and County of San Francisco regarding the much anticipated elementary school waiver process. This letter was sent directly to schools and is not available on the SFDPH website. Some peer schools have chosen to publicize this letter, considering it as the next step toward opening school. I would advise a more measured response based on the following:

• The tone of Dr. Aragón’s letter is characteristically—and reassuringly—cautious. His letter does not indicate the ushering in of a clear and speedy path to reopening for in-person instruction.

• The letter does not lay out a specific application process. In fact, it states that “the waiver application and planning documents required for approval will require more detailed information” from DPH.

• The only concrete actions that schools can take at this point is to indicate to DPH that they intend to apply for a waiver, which we will do, and to assemble materials that the County and State have indicated will be required when the application process is clarified.  

It is likely that in the coming days some of you will hear from parents with children at other schools—or from their friends or their friends’ friends—that such-and-such a school has applied for the waiver. Please know that there is not, as of today, a process for doing so. When there is a process, we will tell you and we will apply.

Adam’s Corner
Updates from Pandemic Response Coordinator Adam Ross

Prepping for the New School Year

It’s almost the end of our first full week of Launch Week—our CAIS term for the seven days of back-to-school prep for all faculty and staff. Even prior to its official start, many of the Preschool staff at Waller had been coming to get classrooms ready for kids’ return, and I began distributing PPE (masks, face shields and eye goggles, sanitizing wipes, etc.), setting up HEPA filters for classrooms and offices, and working with the Waller teachers to develop good practices for cleaning/sanitizing toys and areas kids will be in.  

Last week, we held our virtual New Faculty and Staff orientation via Zoom, and I am happy to announce that our new Health Center Director Lesly Louie has joined the CAIS team as of last week. Lesly is a San Francisco native and a fluent Cantonese speaker, has many years of experience as a registered nurse, and recently worked in a school environment in San Mateo. Lesly will be assisting with operations several days a week at the Waller campus, and will also join our COVID-19 Task Force next week. We are already enjoying working with Lesly immensely!

Return to School Agreements

In the spirit of focusing on our shared commitment as a CAIS community to minimize risk for everyone on our campuses, I am sharing our “Return to School Agreements” document. We will have Preschool families acknowledge your commitment to these agreements in PowerSchool and in the Magnus Health app next week. For families in other grades, please take this chance to preview the agreements and take a moment to review this document with your kids and check to see they understand what is required of them when they come back to school. Overall this is a good moment to reinforce with your kids the importance of hand washing, masking, distancing, and otherwise being aware of their own role to minimize risk. When we are ready to open up Oak and Turk for on-campus learning, we will follow up once again to review these Agreements.

In addition, as we get ready to open up our Waller campus for our Preschool students, we hope that parents of preschoolers have been following Preschool Director Chu Hsi Tseng’s advice to get kids used to wearing masks so as to prepare them to be masked for relatively long periods of time at school. As the temperatures over the past weeks have been quite warm, and with the air quality deteriorating with the fires all around Northern California, it will be even more important for kids to be wearing masks as much as feasible when at CAIS Preschool.

Thanks for reading, and please stay safe indoors given the terrible current and forecasted air quality in the Bay Area this weekend!



  • Chinese American International School


    Early Childhood Division (Preschool) | Alice A. Carnes Center
    42/52 Waller Street 

    Early Childhood Division (K-1)
    and Lower School (2-5)
    150 Oak Street 

    Middle School (6-8)
    888 Turk Street 

    San Francisco, CA 94102