Top 10 reminders for green schoolyards

1) Contact before you create

If you are thinking of creating (or expanding) a new green schoolyard space or element at your school site, contact SFUSD’s Green Schoolyard (GSY) Manager while you are still in the planning stages to identify existing conditions, ensure the location & proposed use are appropriate, & determine next steps for transforming the space. Ultimately, SFUSD’s District Architect will need to authorize your plans. This step is essential. If work proceeds without proper authorization, the District may require the school or responsible outside organization to return the space to its original state.

2) Test materials BEFORE disturbing them

Most SFUSD schools are old. The building materials used in the previous century - including lead paint & asbestos -  were used on some exterior features like exterior paint, asphalt, concrete, benches & fences. These elements - along with other external factors -  can impact soil on school grounds. In addition, some of our schools are built in areas where Naturally Occurring Asbestos is part of the underlying natural geologic condition. In order to ensure the health & safety of your school community, as you plan to create & expand your green schoolyards, it is essential to test soil & other materials BEFORE disturbing them. If you have any questions about soil or other material in areas your school community is currently maintaining OR you want to expand your green schoolyard, contact SFUSD’s Green Schoolyard Manager to determine next steps.

3) Build people power

Before you create or expand your Green Schoolyard space, be sure you have the resources (people, materials, water) to maintain existing spaces as well as new ones throughout the year (including summer). Each year your school must identify a Green Schoolyard Liaison, a contact person that SFUSD can get in touch with who is well informed about the site’s green schoolyard elements. This liaison & the school’s principal must sign a maintenance agreement, recognizing all of the responsibilities associated with maintaining a school’s green schoolyard.  To ensure responsibilities are shared & no one person is overwhelmed, it is essential to establish a GSY committee of parents, teachers, & other community members that is responsible for developing a maintenance plan & implementing it. Download the maintenance agreement and see a sample stewardship plan. Once a maintenance agreement and stewardship plan are completed, please send a digital copy to SFUSD’s Green Schoolyard Manager at

4) You may need an MOU for that

When maintenance (weeding, watering, planting annuals in EXISTING GSY areas) is needed on your site, an informal group of school community members may conduct maintenance on the site without obtaining a permit as long as they obtain the Principal’s approval AND sign waivers. Please check with your Site Administrator/Principal to be sure no other events or construction are taking place on site when you plan to be there.  Download the annual waiver that each participant must sign once per year.

If an entity (PTA, Education Outside, etc.) is hosting a formal work day or event on your school site, the entity must obtain an approved Facilities Use Permit (FUP) from SFUSD’s Real Estate Office & provide the required insurances.  The entity may apply for multiple work days in one FUP. The fees associated with FUPs may be waived if a staff person (principal, teacher) at your school is participating & willing to open & close up the site.

If you want to make any alterations to a site (anything from tree planting, installing a new tool shed, to major construction) OR expand your school’s GSY footprint, an approved Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) from the Real Estate Office is required prior to commencing any work. Please refer to #1 above to begin this process.

5) Week wackers and green schoolyards don't mix

Your school community is putting time & energy in to creating & maintaining your GSY, AND our Landscape Department needs to know which areas are being maintained by the community. To ensure this information is communicated appropriately, fill out a site plan as soon as possible that illustrates the areas of the school campus that the school community (parents, teachers, etc..) is responsible for maintaining. This site plan should be filled out & returned to the Green Schoolyard Manager along with a maintenance agreement signed by the school principal & green schoolyard liaison.  Any time a school’s GSY footprint changes, a revised site plan must be submitted. When the school transitions to having either a new green schoolyard liaison or new school principal, a new maintenance agreement must be submitted.  If you need a blank site plan for your school site or a copy of the maintenance agreement, contact SFUSD’s Green Schoolyard Manager at

6) Standards for maintenance

SFUSD sets basic standards for the maintenance of its facilities & landscapes, including its Green Schoolyards. Make sure to clear pathways & sidewalks of mulch, overgrowth, & debris (plants or otherwise), pull weeds, maintain compost bins, & prune plants on an ongoing basis.  If these basic steps are not taken, it is not only unsightly, but it can lead to access issues, breed pests, and/or create other health & safety concerns. The District takes these issues very seriously & if a school community does not respond to requests to address maintenance concerns, it will take action.

7) Preview before you plant

Before planting new perennials or trees, make sure to “preview” your planting list & planting plan with SFUSD’s Landscape Supervisor & obtain approval. Our Landscape Supervisor will let you know whether the plant species you have selected are appropriate for your school site & make recommendations when necessary. Please see #4 for information about when permits are necessary to conduct GSY related work on site.

8) Track your site

Keep track of important information, changes & projects that take place at your site in a GSY site binder.  By documenting all the information you know about your GSY (site conditions, master plan, underlying infrastructure, materials used, planting plans, etc.) & keeping it organized in a physical binder, future community members will benefit from your knowledge & use it to improve upon the GSY. While you may choose to keep a “digital” binder as well, be sure to keep a hard copy of this binder at your school site & make sure new members of your school community know about it & where it is stored.

9) Be picky with new, recycled, and donated materials

Carefully consider the materials you bring on to your site. Local donations & salvaged materials are a wonderful way to stretch the green schoolyard budget, but they come with risks. Painted items, especially if they are older, may be painted with lead paint.  Donated plants may not be a desirable species & may not last very long due to prior stress. Trees may be stunted or diseased. Building materials may contain unwanted pests or unhealthy chemicals. Keep it simple. If you aren’t sure, say no thank you. Do NOT take soil donations. 

10) Use organic products and non-toxic pest management practices

While those weeds may get unruly & the organic plant starts may be a bit more expensive, SFUSD is constantly working to improve our students’ environments. Keeping pesticides out of our gardens & other green schoolyard areas is an important step towards achieving this goal. Whenever possible, purchase organically grown starts & plants. Take non-toxic approaches (including proper maintenance) to keeping gardens & nature play areas as pest free as possible.


While these ten points are essential to follow, make sure to review SFUSD’s Green Schoolyard Guidelines & Appendices to get a more in depth understanding of how to create, sustain & grow your green schoolyard. Please contact SFUSD’s Green Schoolyard Manager for a copy of these guidelines.

SFUSD’s Green Schoolyard Manager, Tamar Barlev can be reached at

This page was last updated on July 6, 2022