The Santa Barbara Unified School District will kick the 2020-21 school year off with remote-only instruction for all students — but the choice wasn’t made by the district.
Governor Gavin Newsom mandated the district and all others in Santa Barbara County to keep their campuses closed, and he also rolled out a set of pandemic guidelines for K-12 schools that can offer some form of in-person instruction.
The mandate prohibits school districts in 32 of the state’s 58 counties to reopen in a fully in-person or hybrid model until those counties are off the state’s watch list for 14 consecutive days. The list monitors which counties have worsening coronavirus trends. Santa Barbara County has been on the list more than a month for reasons such as growing daily case counts and, more alarmingly, growing hospitalization rates.
“None of us want to see education virtualized, at least I don’t,” Newsom said. “I believe profoundly in the power of individuals and the cohort and the connectedness of being engaged with others and learning to develop yourself not just intellectually but emotionally. And maturing in ways that is hard to achieve online.
“That being said, what we can do to get our kids back into school is, and please look at this list again: wear a mask, physically distance, wash your hands, and minimize mixing,” the governor continued.
Santa Barbara Unified was poised to make a final choice on its instruction model on Tuesday, July 21, but with Newsom’s announcement, the future vote became moot. As the district pivots its attention from choosing in-person instruction or not completely embracing online learning, the district will still work in the background to create contingency plans so that campuses will be ready to meet the governor’s guidelines when the county is off the watch list.
School districts within counties that aren’t on the watch list are still able to choose how best to reopen, but they must implement health guidelines if they open in person. Newsom laid out guidelines and changes for in-person instruction. Though Santa Barbara won’t start the year off this way, the district may shift mid-year if data and contingency plans allow.
- All staff and students in 3rd grade and above must wear masks or face shields. Students in 2nd grade and below are highly encouraged to wear them.
- All teachers and staff must keep a six-foot distance between themselves and students.
- The school day will begin with symptom checks and temperature checks.
- The district will have standard quarantine protocols.
- Staff will be tested often and state contact tracers instructed to prioritize schools.
Newsom gave the following guidelines for choosing when to re-close schools if necessary:
- Schools must consult with public health officer first before closing.
- If there is a single confirmed case in a classroom cohort, the entire cohort goes home.
- If there are multiple confirmed cases across multiple cohorts or more than 5 percent of the school tests positive, the entire school is closed.
- If more than 25 percent of a district’s schools are closed within a 14-day period, the entire district shifts back to distance-only education.
Board President Laura Capps said she was relieved at Newsom’s announcement and that the upcoming board meeting will now focus on finding the best resources and making the best investments in both distance and in-person education for SBUSD students, because it’s clear that the pandemic won’t fully end for at least another year or two.
“As a mom, I can’t wait for the golden day when our students are back in school, getting the in-person education we all agree is best and socializing and enjoying all the activities they deserve,” Capps said. “To get there, given the governor’s mandate, we all need to do our part by social distancing and making short-term sacrifices, and our leaders need to — at a minimum — enforce mask wearing and other basic safety measures.”
Capps said that one recommendation that she fully supports is investing in tents to teach students outdoors. She said the district has already identified spaces conducive for outdoor learning on every campus, and on Tuesday, she will advocate for the district to purchase the roughly $200,000 tents so students can socially distance and meet the governor’s guidelines when the district is able to reopen campuses.
New SBUSD superintendent Hilda Maldonado attempted to quell fears that many parents have about distance learning not working for their children. Many students struggled to learn the material they normally would have in a classroom setting last spring, so parents fear the quality of online learning isn’t enough. Maldonado said that the district is making investments and putting more time and energy into distance learning for this fall than was possible last spring when the pandemic took educators by surprise.
“We will share more details on this and other aspects of our plan at our upcoming July 21 board meeting,” Maldonado said about the distance-learning plan. “Our principals, teachers, and staff are educational experts and learners and are getting prepared to implement stronger distance-learning instruction. They are bright and resourceful thinkers. We know we can do this in a way that makes our students feel cared for and also fosters their academic growth.”
The meeting agenda will be posted here.
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