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The level of uncertainty and anxiety in our community is higher than we can ever remember. As of July 24, 35 California counties (94 percent of our state’s population) are on the Watch List, and Santa Barbara County has been included in this alarming statistic for over a month. Meanwhile, it’s late July, and everyone’s thoughts have turned to schools re-opening. After all, they have been closed since March 13; more than ever children deserve a meaningful, rigorous academic education, and they desperately need social interaction in a safe and caring environment. Nevertheless, distance learning will start next month, and our schools will be shuttered until further notice. In other words, until we — as a community — begin to get this virus back under control.
With the hundreds of letters and public comments about reopening schools that we have received in the last two weeks, it is clear that while perspectives vary, we are all united in the strong belief that kids belong in the classroom. It is our wish that this shared motivation will prove to be the powerful incentive our community needs to reverse our infection rates. That means making short term sacrifices and changing behaviors, the way we did in April. Recently the Centers for Disease Control estimated that if everyone in the U.S. wore a mask and practiced social distancing for merely one to two months we would stop this virus in its tracks. Sure, the numbers in North County are higher, but just look around our beautiful community. Some people are wearing masks, but many are not. Some people are practicing social distancing, but many are not. And our local leaders have yet to enforce the statewide mask requirement.
District leaders, teachers, and staff will no doubt do their best to create a distance learning program that is engaging, inclusive, reasonable, and even fun. Parents will no doubt do their best to support the teachers and their children’s success, despite the immense professional and personal obstacles that many face. Now, everyone else must also do their best, just for a matter of weeks. Nothing really takes the place of school, so let’s keep our eye on that prize. Please wear your masks, practice social distancing, and limit your gathering in groups. City and County leaders, please help us open schools by using every tool you have, including enforcing mask wearing. It will be good for our county, and it will be wonderful for kids.
Laura Capps is president of the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s Board of Trustees; Kate Ford is a member of the SBUSD board.