Santa Barbara Unified Elementary Schools Reopening

Secondary Schools Expected to Reopen Once COVID Case Rate Drops Further

Franklin Elementary students have only been able to see their teachers for a few minutes a week outside of Zoom, when they pick up their schoolwork packets on Fridays. Starting Monday, elementary students will be allowed to attend class in person two days a week. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

After nearly a year, Santa Barbara Unified elementary schools will be reopening to in-person instruction on Monday, March 1.

The school board unanimously voted Tuesday night after the Santa Barbara County COVID case rate dropped to 16.9, which is lower than the 25 threshold required for elementary reopening. Secondary schools may reopen once it drops below 7.

“There has been a tremendous amount of work done in preparation for this day,” Superintendent Hilda Maldonado said. “We continue to advocate for all of our teachers and school staff to get vaccinated. But with all of this, I realize that there will still be people without vaccines, people who haven’t had equitable access to testing, or who feel isolated from their loved ones.”

For months, teachers have called on the district to continue with distance learning until they are able to get vaccinated. With the March 1 reopening, most teachers will still be unvaccinated when they return to campus. Though this issue has been a driving force against the effort to reopen schools, it isn’t the only issue teachers are facing with the switch to a hybrid model.

Karen McBride, president of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association, said that some teachers have not received teaching assignments or class rosters — making preparations for March 1 challenging. She said that teachers in the district have to create individualized reading materials for each child in their class.

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“So keep in mind, they’re preparing for students they don’t know yet,” McBride said. “They need to track down their [reading] levels while simultaneously still teaching the children that are in their classes right now.”

McBride had more concerns but was cut off at the two-minute public comment limit. Boardmember Laura Capps said she would hear the rest of her concerns outside of the meeting. 

The new hybrid model has three cohorts — two that alternate days of in-person and online instruction, and a third for families that opt to keep their child in distance-only learning. Group A will attend school in person on Mondays and Thursdays while group B will attend Tuesdays and Fridays. Both cohorts will attend online for a short day on Wednesdays. 

When the district re-surveyed parents on their learning model preference, nearly 76 percent kept their initial choice of in-person learning, and 14 percent kept their distance-learning choice. Some families changed their minds. Six percent switched their choice from in-person learning to in-person and 3 percent vice versa. 

With elementary schools reopening, middle and high schools are just around the corner.

“In terms of facilities and safety considerations, we are ready,” said Frann Wageneck, assistant superintendent of student services. “The secondary principals are leading their schools right now through the processes required to begin in-person learning.”

She said that this week, families of secondary students will receive notifications to confirm their learning model choice. Next week, principals will work to place students in their cohorts. In addition, earlier on Tuesday, Wageneck said secondary teachers received their 10-day notice to return to work in person. 

Wageneck also said that new youth sports guidance was released last week that allows high-contact outdoor sports to continue under certain COVID precautions. For Santa Barbara Unified, this means that soccer, football, and water polo can resume after the case rate lowers further to 14.

Click here to see the full reopening report.

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