As of Tuesday September 22, the coronavirus cases in Santa Barbara decreased to a rate that entered the county into the red tier infection level. This phase entry led to the question of when schools would be reopened. The red tier allows for indoor businesses and establishments to increase their capacity and is characterized by 4-7 cases daily, compared to the moderate orange infection level which has 1-3.9 daily cases. The county’s decrease in covid infections prompted the beginning of small cohorts on campus and the reestablishment of select sports. However, this stage also forced the Santa Barbara Unified School District to evaluate at which coronavirus infection rate schools would reopen. During the school board meeting on October 13, the decision to reopen SBHS as a hybrid model in the orange tier was made, and the structure of safety precautions and school itself was presented.
The partial reopening of school started with the introduction of small cohorts on campus. The number of people within each cohort is dependent on how many students a teaching space can safely hold. These cohorts consist of people with acute needs that were not being addressed through distance learning. According to the district’s information, the small cohort prioritization is as follows: special education, homeless, emergent multilingual, students without connectivity, credit deficient seniors, and students failing core classes. The cohorts participate in school through academic learning centers (ALC), where students can receive additional learning support while in zoom class. Those in ALCs are supervised by staff or administration; students with moderate/severe disabilities and newcomers attend class with their teacher. The introduction of sports was also facilitated by SB county reaching the red zone. 19 Sports Teams across the three large high schools initiated athletics activity following the red zone’s announcement on September 22. Fifty-eight coaches oversee conditioning workouts for about 800 student-athletes in football, volleyball, water polo, cross country, and cheer, with other sports reintegrations continuing to be planned.
On October 13, a Santa Barbara Unified board meeting was held to determine when school would be reopened. A proposal of reopening January 19th under a hybrid model was addressed. Almost 71% of all staff from grades K-12 stated they would prefer to return to school in January when the county is in the gold/orange tier. The board meeting on the 13th approved of this proposal and presented a plan to phase back into school. The red tier would not mean an implementation of the hybrid model, but rather the continuation of the small need-based cohorts on campus and sports practices. The decision means elementary and secondary students would remain in distance learning until January 19, the beginning of the second semester. The hybrid model for high schoolers within the Santa barbara unified district would split the student body into two on campus cohorts, A and B, with one distance learning C cohort. Students would attend five 80 minute in-person sessions on campus during a two-week learning cycle and five 80 minute sessions through distance learning. The on campus A and B cohorts would be split into two, and alternate the days spent on campus. Cohort C which will continue 100% distance learning will be allowed to participate in activities such as athletics and extracurricular activities that take place during the final period of the day, and after school. There will be a form released within the week of November 2-6 in which students can choose whether to attend in-person class through the hybrid schedule or continue fully online courses.
There are many more safety precautions in place for on-campus learning. There will be portable hand washing stations at school sites. Schedules and processes for handwashing will be established at each school to minimize students, and staff congregating in bathrooms. Students will wash hands before entering class and before and after scheduled mealtimes. Cloth coverings and face shields will be given to students and staff, there will be social distancing at all times, and shared surfaces’ sanitation will frequently occur throughout the school day. Windows will be open to maximize airflow, and students will be spaced accordingly. Staggered arrival times of students, floor stickers, and signs that indicate doors for entering and exiting as well as mark lanes for travel in hallways will be implemented to maintain such distancing. All schedules, including breaks and lunch, will be created to limit interaction between students’ cohorts, and no nonessential visitors on campus will be admitted.
The district will utilize a “Standard School Entry Method” through Google Docs and the iPass electronic screening and validation process that asks parents and staff members to respond to questions related to exposure to and symptoms of COVID-19. Students and staff will not be allowed to enter campus unless iPass clears them for an electronic “Entry” badge. School nurses will utilize iPass to document/track incidents of possible exposure. Those who do not complete iPass before coming to campus or a district office will be required to engage in a screening protocol before going into the site. The district also highlighted a plan for when a student, staff member, or visitor gets sick and a plan for considerations for total/partial closures of campus due to COVID exposures.
Santa Barbara Unified has also created a reopening task force that meets regularly to plan and coordinate for schools’ reopening. The task force takes into consideration the priorities of reopening during decision making (instruction, health and wellness, governance and leadership, community and family engagement, facilities and operations) as well as: the safety of students, staff members, and the community, students’ academic needs, students’ and staff members social, emotional, and physical wellbeing, facility needs, student enrollment trends, staffing considerations, fiscal resources, health guidelines, policies, and laws, and labor contracts.
Harrington, Theresa. “Quick Guide: What California’s Color-Coded County Tracking System Means for Schools.” EdSource, EdSource, 20 Oct. 2020, edsource.org/2020/quick-guide-what-californias-color-coded-county-tracking-system-means-for-schools/639357.
District Re-entry Plan,https://drive.google.com/file/d/14odIUzHIvCIRRRvxOYErz-k8K43pxxDr/view.
Molina, Joshua. “Santa Barbara School Board Considering 2 Dates for Return to In-Person Class Schedules.” Noozhawk.com Santa Barbara & Goleta Local News, 11 Oct. 2020, 11:55 pm,www.noozhawk.com/article/santa_barbara_school_board_considering_2_back-to-school_dates_20201011?utm_source=Noozhawk.