Santa Barbara School District to Mandate COVID Testing Amid Rise in Cases

SBUSD Currently Has 31 COVID Cases

“If this rate continues, we are looking at over 50 cases of COVID amongst our students and approximately 24 cases for our staff,” said Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck at the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education meeting Tuesday. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

[Update 09/2/21] The Santa Barbara Unified School District learned August 27 that due to a national shortage of tests, it will not be receiving the full amount of tests for the district in time for the previously stated September 7 deadline. The district expects to receive around 5,800 tests in the next few days, and it will create a plan to prioritize the use of the tests until an additional shipment arrives. 

The original story follows.

Starting after Labor Day, Santa Barbara Unified School District will implement mandatory COVID-19 testing for all K-12 students, with consent from parents when necessary. Students under the age of 13 do need their parents’ consent to get tested, while students over the age of 13 do not need parental consent but can choose to share their test results. 

Any family that would like to opt out of testing will not be allowed to participate in in-person classes, but they may participate in independent study through Alta Vista Alternative High School.

The new mandate, announced at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, is in response to a rise of COVID-19 cases in the school district since in-person instruction began mid-August. Nine staff members and 22 students have tested positive for COVID as of August 31, with the ages ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. 

“If this rate continues, we are looking at over 50 cases of COVID amongst our students and approximately 24 cases for our staff,” said Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck at Tuesday’s meeting. 

During the highest outbreak period of COVID-19 in the district, there were 26 reported positive cases within the entire month of April. Wageneck said none of the cases reported within the first five days of school were transmitted while on campus, compared to one transmission case from 2020. 

In early August, the board voted to require all teachers to be vaccinated by the beginning of the school year or submit to weekly testing. So far, 85 percent of regular staff — those who work on the campus or in the district regularly — are fully vaccinated. Eighteen staff members have vaccinations in progress, and 44 are choosing to not be vaccinated. 

“When we have this much COVID in our community, it’s inevitable that people will be bringing it to school, unknowingly,” said Susan Klein-Rothschild, former deputy director of the Santa Barbara Public Health Department. 

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According to Klein-Rothschild, 73 percent of eligible residents of the county, anyone 12 and older, have had at least one shot, with 64 percent being fully vaccinated. 

Klein-Rothschild said the county is close to overwhelming its hospital system due to the growing number of COVID cases. The county currently has 24 COVID cases per 100,000 residents, as compared to nine in June. 

“It’s really unfortunate and concerning,” she said. “As we start our school year, we’re doing it amid a community that has too much COVID.”

Other plans considered by the district to fight COVID included buying air purifiers for the entire district, about 725 classrooms and 300 office spaces, or for select classrooms and offices. The plans range in cost from about $100,000-$200,000. 

“The sooner we identify someone who is positive and the sooner we isolate them,” Klein-Rothschild said, “the sooner we stop the spread.”

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