As members of the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) board, we understand that our paramount responsibility is to ensure the health and well-being of our students. Incorporating all we’ve learned about COVID-19, we are determined to open schools safely for all staff and students on August 17. Sadly, our community is still in a health emergency that requires us to further safeguard students and staff against the risks of infection, illness, hospitalization, and death from the virus. It is now our responsibility to ensure that we do all that we can to prevent COVID-19 in our schools, while keeping our classroom doors open and providing an environment where all children can thrive — especially the most vulnerable — and our staff can be protected from disease. Our students, teachers, and staff deserve healthy and safe schools.
Since January of last year, at least 1 in 12 people who live in Santa Barbara County have been infected, and at least 1 in 952 people have died. As elected officials, we must do our part to do whatever we can to put a halt to these disturbing numbers. And as history demonstrates, we know we can do it. Polio was once the most feared disease in the U.S., causing 15,000 cases of paralysis and disabling 35,000 people each year. In 1979, polio was eradicated not by herd immunity but by a successful vaccination mandate.
We are alarmed at the high percentage of unvaccinated people in our county, despite the efforts of so many. Given that the new Delta variant is highly transmissible to adults and children, we are grateful that the vaccines are extremely effective and safe and will receive full authorization from the FDA soon. The SBUSD staff has worked hard with County Public Health, Cottage, Sansum, and the Neighborhood Clinics to provide students and staff access to vaccinations. And nearly 65 percent of SBUSD teachers and staff have told us they are vaccinated, confirmed either by self-reporting or by confidentially showing proof of vaccination card to our nurses. But that percentage is far from where we should be — especially for staff members who are interacting with young children who can’t yet be vaccinated. Full vaccination provides the safety our schools need.
As board members, we took an oath to do everything possible to protect SBUSD students and school staff. Therefore, we are advocating for a requirement for all employees of Santa Barbara Unified to be fully vaccinated and/or tested at least every week for COVID-19. Implementing this policy will likely save lives.
The SBUSD school board will hold a special meeting at 2 p.m. on Thursday, August 5 to act on this new vaccine requirement to take effect immediately. We look forward to continuing our partnership with our city and county leaders as we take this critical next step. Our kids have lost too much already; we owe it to them and our school staff to beat back this pandemic once and for all.
The authors are trustees on the board of Santa Barbara Unified School District.