Santa Barbara Unified’s Hands Tied on Applying for Waiver

Due to Rising COVID-19 Cases, County Not Accepting Waivers at This Time

Kate Ford | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The Santa Barbara Unified School District was blindsided Tuesday evening when it was informed that the Public Health Department is not accepting waivers to reopen elementary schools at this time, despite the district’s waiver being ready to go.

“Even as we sit here disappointed, and I think it’s okay to say we are in a disappointed space based on the information we learned today about our ability to immediately apply for a waiver,” assistant superintendent Frann Wageneck said at the board’s meeting about it, “this still does not deter us.”

The district’s reopening plans have continually been pushed back in recent months. First, the board pushed its hybrid reopening plan back in October when it decided it just wasn’t ready to reopen in November. Then, once the board voted on reopening in a hybrid model in January, county cases began to spike and now the chances of reopening then are slim to none. The one chance for at least a partial reopening is the elementary waivers, which would allow elementary schools to open in the purple tier. 

But the Public Health Department informed the boardmembers that their waiver won’t be considered until local case rate and positivity rates start to improve. 

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“It’s very hard for me to feel like at this point it would be smart to even submit the application,” boardmember Kate Ford said. “I see things getting worse, not better, in the near term, and as a boardmember, I want to have a voice for when the application goes in.”

The board didn’t take a vote because it would be moot after the news from Public Health. Instead, the board was pleased that staff had the waiver completed and ready to go, and it gave formal direction to staff to continue their reopening preparations. Once the county is ready to review applications again, the board will reconvene a public meeting and vote on the waiver.

The next board meeting is scheduled for December 15. 

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