Santa Barbara Unified Town Hall: What Does a Hybrid Model Really Look Like?

District, Public Health Officials Answer Parents’ Burning Questions

From top left: Executive director of diversity, equity, and family engagement Maria Larios-Horton, student Sasha Runyen, student Shakir Ahmad, director of the district’s facilities and maintenance Steve Vizzolini, assistant deputy director of Public Health Susan Klein-Rothschild, Superintendent Hilda Maldonado, assistant superintendent Frann Wageneck, deputy health officer Peggy Dodds, boardmember Wendy Sims-Moten, public information officer Camie Barnwell, public health director Van Do-Reynoso, Franklin Elementary principal Case Killgore, boardmember Kate Ford, student Cielo Said, Santa Barbara High School principal Elise Simmons. | Credit: Courtesy

Will kids in Santa Barbara Unified School District receive consequences if they refuse to wear masks at school? And what happens if a student does wind up testing positive for COVID-19 in school? 

These were just two of the questions parents blasted district and public health administrators with Thursday afternoon at the district’s town hall on its hybrid model for instruction. Although the state and county has said schools may reopen with pandemic protocols in the current red tier, the district is waiting until January 19, 2021, to implement its hybrid model, a combination of distance learning and in-person instruction. 

For months, the decision to go back to in-person instruction or not has been a contentious issue in the district community. Generally, parents and students were close to evenly split in their preference, although some pushed for schools to reopen fully and some students held a protest over it two weeks ago. Teachers have overwhelmingly been against returning to in-person learning until pandemic conditions are safer. 

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With the final decision made, the town hall was meant to answer any questions about the model rather than to debate the model itself. Families have until November 13 to decide on whether their child will do hybrid or independent study learning. 

“There are three things you really need to consider for your program selection,” said Santa Barbara High School Principal Elise Simmons. “What is happening in our community, your family’s health and risks, and your school’s health and safety plan. I also want to talk about the academic needs of your child. 

“What’s the best way that they learn and what are their social and emotional needs?”

There were several questions asked in the Zoom forum about mask wearing and enforcement. All students in 3rd grade and up are required to wear face coverings every day except when they are eating or exercising. One anonymous attendee asked if there will be a zero tolerance policy for those students refusing to wear masks.

“Face coverings are required,” answered Susan Klein-Rothschild, assistant deputy director of Public Health. “If after education there continues to be a problem with compliance, then the student will not remain in school. The more we learn about the effectiveness, the more we enforce the use of face coverings.”

Another parent effectively stumped both public health and district officials when they asked if all parents would be notified in the event there is a student in their child’s class with a medical exemption not to wear a mask. Ultimately, Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck said that the scenario would be rare and likely not an issue, though she wasn’t sure if notifying parents would be a privacy issue for the student with the medical exemption.

Another parent asked how the district can ensure ventilation in the classrooms when the virus can be airborne. 

“Over the last month, the [heating, ventilating, and air conditioning] staff have been going to every school site and making sure that our fans are running continuously during the school day,” said Steve Vizzolini, director of the district’s facilities and maintenance. “The ventilation is a key part of making sure that we dilute the air.”

Vizzolini also explained earlier that the district trained over 100 of its custodial staff on the safe use of the disinfectant products to use in the schools. He said there would be hand sanitizer stations in every classroom, custodians would be resanitizing “high-touch” surfaces throughout the day, and students in junior high and high school will disinfect their own desks before they move on to the next class period. 

Sports were another hot topic in the town hall. Multiple parents asked whether or not regular sports as usual could continue. In short, the answer is no. 

“Currently, only physical conditioning and fitness are allowed,” Klein-Rothschild said. “There is no permission for sports that have close contact as all students need to maintain six feet physical distance.”

The district will post a recording of the town hall at its website here. A Spanish version of the event will begin live here at 6 p.m. Thursday. To see the district’s frequently asked questions page on COVID-19 protocols, click here.

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