Board President Kate Ford, Boardmember Virginia Alvarez, Superintendent Hilda Maldonado, American Sign Language interpreter Julia Townsend, Boardmember Rose Muñoz, and Boardmember Laura Capps. Boardmember Wendy Sims-Moten was absent. | Credit: Courtesy

Reopening schools in person finally appears to be in reach of the Santa Barbara Unified School District — as soon as February 26 for elementary schools.

The County Public Health Department announced earlier in the day on Tuesday that it had sent a letter to the state department, urging it to allow Santa Barbara Unified to reopen elementary campuses to in-person learning within seven days of receiving the letter. All elementary school staff were given notice that reopening is imminent. 

Even if the state denies the request, case rates are dropping steadily, and the district expects to be able to reopen in the near future either way. The adjusted case rate, currently at 36.4, is the number of new cases per day for every 100,000 residents of the county averaged over a week. The state requires the adjusted case rate to be down to 25 or less to reopen elementary schools.

The district gave an update on its reopening readiness Tuesday evening. The following is a roundup of the top three takeaways.

Without vaccines, many teachers will not be on board, regardless of the district’s readiness. 

“The pace at which things are changing has been a little disconcerting,” said Karen McBride, president of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association. “I know there are folks that are part of this organization who really want to be back in the classroom, and members who are fearful who have experienced COVID on deep levels. … It’s going to get real here real fast if we go back without vaccinations.” 

McBride was joined by two other teachers at public comment that urged the district to keep campuses closed until they could vaccinate all staff. Board President Kate Ford and Superintendent Hilda Maldonado sent a letter to the Public Health Department earlier in the day calling on it to give teachers priority vaccines, completing them by the end of February. The Public Health Department has said previously that there are simply not enough vaccines for that.

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Of the 3,000 students on campus for small cohorts or athletics, about 3.8 percent of them have been infected with COVID-19 in the past five months.

There have been a total of 108 cases of the virus in students and staff who are still on campus in small cohorts or athletics — 81 staff and 27 students. However, just nine of those transmissions happened on district property, all of whom were staff. Though there was a spike in January, as seen countywide, the cases are now declining. 

These students are just about 25 percent of the entire district population.

The district has all of its pandemic ducks in a row.

Nearly all of the previously unfilled staffing positions required for reopening have been refilled. The only positions left to hire are two playground supervisors. Every health and safety requirement — including staff testing, planning for school closures, and proper disinfection and classroom ventilation — has been completed. 

The district had its COVID safety plan approved by the county last Friday, and the only step left before reopening is for families to fill out their preference of a hybrid model or fully online model for their student. Families have until February 12 to confirm their choice. The district will reorganize classes based on the survey responses. 

“We’re ready to reopen,” said Frann Wageneck, assistant superintendent of student services. “Will there be challenges? Absolutely. Will there be new problems to solve? Yes. But we feel confident that our teachers, our staff, our principals, and in partnership with our parents, we are ready to have our students back on campus.”

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