Secondary schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District will reopen in person this week.
The schools will operate in A and B groups of students, which will switch going to school in person or online on alternate days. Cohort A goes back to school Thursday, March 18, and cohort B returns March 19.
The district was able to reopen because the county reentered the red tier. The adjusted case rate, currently 7.7, is under the threshold of 10 needed to move from the purple to the red tier. (The adjusted case rate needed to enter the red tier had been seven, but that requirement was relaxed after the state’s most vulnerable neighborhoods received two million vaccines.) The district had been waiting for months to enter back into the red tier and get the chance to reopen.
“There are a number of requirements that we needed to meet in order to safely return students to school, and we have met all of them,” said Frann Wageneck, assistant superintendent of Student Services. These requirements included getting a safety plan approved by the Public Health Department.
Though elementary schools reopened two weeks ago prior to vaccinating teachers and staff, the goal to vaccinate them is quickly catching up in time for the opening of secondary schools. In a survey that 97 percent of Santa Barbara Unified staff responded to, 73 percent of staff had already been vaccinated. Sixteen percent of them are waiting for an appointment, and the remaining 11 percent declined the vaccine.
Boardmember Laura Capps was concerned about the 11 percent, asking Susan Klein-Rothschild, assistant deputy director of Public Health, if there is any possibility that the district can mandate teacher vaccines in the future.
“Have you heard any conversations among state legislators that [not mandating vaccines] could change once the vaccine is readily available?” Capps asked. “Voicing concern from some, including myself, that we want our children to be around vaccinated people.”
Klein-Rothschild said that employers can’t require it because the vaccines are under emergency authorization use, but that may change once they receive formal approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The boardmembers also pushed the staff — for the second consecutive meeting — for an effort to bring students on campus on Wednesdays. Currently, Wednesdays are slated as a half-day that is online for both groups A and B. Because Wednesdays are no longer needed as a cleaning day, the board wanted to see a plan to utilize the extra day for in-person instruction.
Staff also gave an update on how testing is going since elementary schools have reopened in person. As part of the district’s surveillance testing, employees have to be tested every two weeks at their school site. There have been 1,988 staff tests since February 22. Of those, eight staff members tested positive.