• Friday, September 4, 2020

Weekly Newsletter - September 4, 2020

The Much Anticipated,
Sadly Misunderstood Waiver 
(alternative title: “The Bridge of Death”)

I’m always looking for a good hook, and this week I will lean on the 1975 film Monty Python and The Holy Grail, a classic of British humor. I fully realize that many of you were not even born in 1975; in case there are any lingering doubts, I very much already was.

A great scene in the film is when King Arthur and his Knights of Camelot attempt to cross the “Bridge of Death” which spans the “Gorge of Eternal Peril.” It is my hope that if you watch the clip, you will gain a deeper appreciation for the challenges of the K-6 waiver application process.


The perils of the waiver application process are many and various. However, like Brave Sir Lancelot, we at CAIS remain unafraid. My own biggest concerns about the process are the misunderstanding surrounding it and the misguided optimism it has bred in the San Francisco independent school world. I am hoping to cast some light on the process so as to create an accurate (even if unwelcome) picture of what we face.

Last week CAIS and some 50 other schools in San Francisco indicated to the Department of Public Health that we intended to apply for the waiver. On Saturday, DPH sent out the application materials to CAIS and the other schools. The application form alone is 8-pages long and contains a check list of 20 items, each one of which requires detailed written answers and reams of supporting documentation. The process is rigorous and thorough, and it reflects the cautious approach taken by our City and County public health officials since mid-March when schools were first closed. For instance, DPH urges a gradual reopening, with younger grades (eg, K-1) opening first, followed in turn by higher grades. CAIS has already done a great deal of the work for the application, but there are other requirements that are new and for which DPH has not yet issued guidance.

Then, earlier this week there was a flurry of news as the State of California rolled out a new county monitoring system (replacing the monitoring list with a number of color-coded tiers). San Francisco Mayor London Breed also announced that reopening in our city would be expanded to include more businesses, and The San Francisco Chronicle reported an accelerated timeline for school openings with elementary schools opening as early as mid-September, middle schools following in October, and high schools in November. The aggregate effect of these announcements was that the whole process seemed to have been accelerated and relaxed. 

This was and remains confusing. Just a few hours ago, I received an email from DPH clarifying some of the apparent discrepancies between the different levels and departments of State and City/County government. The email clarified some things, but also raised new questions. For instance, instead of the waiver application (aka “Bridge of Death”) the City and County will now require a plan. What is the difference between the waiver process and the plan? No one knows yet, but at CAIS we are halfway across the “Bridge of Death,” and we figure—with some good reasons—that the requirements of the plan will be fundamentally similar to the waiver. Just last night I was messaging back and forth with other San Francisco school heads about the waiver process, and now … pivot! 

Also confusing to us is that the various announcements by the Mayor and the Chronicle have not yet been accompanied by documents from the DPH. As of Tuesday there were new directives for childcare providers, out of school time (OST) programs, and higher education, but nothing for K-12 schools. Moreover, the new state tier system may be overruled by county health departments. In other words, if San Francisco County is in the “Red Tier” for 14 consecutive days (we’re in that tier now), the State may allow our school to open, but the County might not. 

If all of this is confusing and hard to follow, join the club. The bottom line for CAIS families is that we are as on top of the reopening process as any school (which is to say, we are no more or less confused than they are), and I would advise everyone to temper your optimism about schools—ours or any San Francisco school—going back to in-person instruction in mid-September. While for many of you, this may be unwelcome information, I promise you that it is honest. Please don’t shoot (or slay) the messenger!

Enjoy your Labor Day holiday weekend, and please be careful—both Memorial Day and July 4th were followed by spikes in infections, and this only delays the opening of school.



Adam’s Corner
Updates from Pandemic Response Coordinator Adam Ross

Picking up on Jeff Bissell’s exhortation above, as we are on the cusp of going into the “last weekend of summer” for Labor Day, I wish to take the time to remind everyone to keep following safe practices at home—physical distancing, mask wearing, frequent hand washing, avoiding crowds and unsafe cohorting. If we have learned anything in these months of the pandemic, it is that people tend to let their guards down during holidays, long weekends, and such. There was a marked spike in COVID infections immediately following earlier holidays, so it is precisely during this Labor Day long weekend that we need to redouble our vigilance around keeping ourselves, our families, and our larger community safe. Here are some useful guidelines from today’s Berkleyside online journal to mitigate risk for you and your loved ones over the long weekend.

Have a restful and safe long 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