The rules keep changing. And who loses out? Our most deserving and needy students.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the disparity between the haves and have nots, and this has been painfully evident in the schools that are open in our county. Santa Barbara Unified announced reopening schools back in November with plans to return to school on January 19, 2021. Parents were surveyed, and classroom assignments were made based on their choices. Our district has followed every mandate and shifting rule, and we have been ready to open for weeks. Then came the stay-at-home order, and we were not allowed to re-open. In December, we wrote a letter to the governor demanding an explanation for the disparate treatment of school districts that were ready to reopen. We received a response from Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of California Health and Human Services, that they would look into our request, but have not received a further response. Now it has been almost two months.
The only difference between open and closed schools is equity — a reality that is painfully evident in the schools that are open in our county. The racial and socio-economic disparities are glaring. Private schools and schools with more financial resources and smaller class sizes are for the most part open. Santa Barbara Unified and other larger public-school systems are not. Even when our Health & Safety Plan is approved, we cannot open until our county reaches the 25 per 100,000 residents case rate, yet private and smaller schools can remain open. Why, when we all share the same locale and view the same sunset and sunrise daily?
Help us call out and end the disparate results of these never-ending rule changes. We have been successfully and safely running our small cohort groups on campus. We are ready to open to all of our students. We care about families, students, and our staff. We know you do, too.
We are committed to the following:
Santa Barbara Unified is committed to equity, not only as a concept but as a reality. With the passage of our equity resolution on January 26, the school board strongly confirmed the belief that every action and decision must be made with equity in mind. Yet, across the state and here in S.B. County, students of color and our poorest students are forced to stay home. This is wrong. Equity is on our side.
Our SBUSD schools are ready to open. Proper facility cleaning, food preparation and distribution, and classroom ventilation are in place. Social distancing, masking, and hygiene plans are in place. Staff COVID testing and contact tracing are in place. Proper data collection and clear evidence of the safety of our schools have been established. Science is on our side.
Our students and teachers need to be back at school. Our incredible labor partners agree that we are ready. The many months and grueling hours of distance learning are taking a hefty emotional toll on everyone. Educators are working long hours to create, adapt, and revise lessons, while at the same time to motivate students, personalize instruction, and build relationships with their students — most often with children they have never met in person. At the same time, students are battling social isolation, difficulties with distance learning, low grades, and often an unavoidable lack of supervision that leads to unhealthy choices and behavior. Scholastic achievement and emotional health are our priority.
At this point, nearly a year since in-person schools closed last March, we are forced to keep waiting for the next decree and the next seemingly politically motivated mandate or decision, while we see and hear firsthand of the struggles and damage to our community’s most vulnerable populations. We are so frustrated, and we need your help. In the name of what is best for kids and teachers, in the name of the science and data, and in the name of equity, please join us in forcing Governor Newsom to prioritize vaccinations for teachers and allow us to open schools to in-person instruction immediately. Let’s prioritize our children, our students, and our schools — the true heart of our community. Let’s show them how much we care. The inequities must end, and we are ready.
Hilda Maldonado is superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and Kate Ford is president of the district’s Board.