Santa Barbara Teachers Plead for Remote-Only Classes but Parents Want Schools Reopened

Board Will Make Final Decision Next Week at the July 21 Meeting

“Know that no matter where we land on August 18, we will need to be ready, we will need to be agile, and we will need to be fluid and pivot as conditions change.” said new superintendent Hilda Maldonado at Tuesday’s school board work session about the possible reopening of schools next month. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Teachers from the Santa Barbara Unified School District pleaded with the school board for remote-only instruction amid increasing county COVID-19 hospitalization rates Tuesday, citing fears that the physical classroom may pose more risks than remote learning. The board is scheduled to make its final decision on July 21. 

“Most teachers look forward to meeting our students, but all I feel is anxiety,” Santa Barbara High teacher Maggie Light said. Many teachers shared Light’s concern that the hybrid or fully open models depend on students and staff following safety protocols perfectly, which is unlikely.

Though surveys and public discussion in recent weeks have demonstrated strong parent support for reopening public schools this fall, dozens of teachers dominated the Zoom call meeting, imploring the board to start the new year remote-only.

The work session Tuesday was intended to garner more community input and learn more about the possible reopening of schools on August 18. The Zoom call, which included a panel of local health and social experts to answer board questions, drew nearly 900 viewers overall.

“With all due respect, this is not about the teachers; this is about the students there to learn,” said Maureen Wooten. “I have two children in Santa Barbara High School, and they deserve to go to school full time.… I fear for the mental health of these kids. The cure will be worse than the cause.”

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Though most of the public spoke to advocate for one position or the other, boardmembers stuck to asking the panelists about the implications of either sticking with remote instruction or utilizing a hybrid model without stating a preference. Most asked questions on behalf of parents.

“We have received dozens and dozens of letters for the last three days, and so many are concerned about one thing and one thing alone: How would we determine when someone goes home, teacher or student, and when do we allow them to return?” Boardmember Kate Ford asked. “What’s it like when people are sick and how do we know when they should come back?”

Panelist Susan Klein-Rothschild with the Santa Barbara Public Health Department explained that if a child shows symptoms, tests positive for the virus, or was determined to be a close contact to someone else who contracted the virus, they will be immediately removed from the class. If the child tests positive, a letter informs the cohort of students and staff to quarantine for 14 days. Children can only come back after a doctor confirms they no longer have the virus.

However, Klein-Rothschild said that the turnaround time for lab test results is backed up throughout the state, which delays contact tracers from notifying close contacts of positive cases for days.

She said the public health department is providing the district with guidance charts that outline how to recognize symptoms and how to determine who is a close contact when a person is suspected to have the virus to notify the close contacts sooner as a best solution until faster testing is available.

Susan Klein-Rothschild was joined by panelists Melinda Cabrera, director of strategic partnerships for the United Way of Santa Barbara County; area pediatrician Dr. Dan Brennan; Suzanne Grimmesey, chief quality care and strategy officer with the Department of Behavioral Wellness; Kelly Moore, safety coordinator for the district; and Margie Yahyavi, executive director of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation. It was moderated by Ellen Barger, assistant superintendent of the county education office.

The discussion was also the first official board meeting for the new superintendent, Hilda Maldonado.

“This work is like a journey,” Maldonado said. “We are tackling something new every day. We are exhausting every possible solution and putting contingency plans in place. Know that no matter where we land on August 18, we will need to be ready, we will need to be agile, and we will need to be fluid and pivot as conditions change.”

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