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The ABCs of Going Back to School

This past week students made the difficult decision on whether or not to go back to on-campus learning, and if so, which cohort they’d prefer. But the decision-making process is not over yet. This Thursday, another survey will be sent out to students and their guardians to finalize their decision. Once this final choice is decided and sent in, there will be no reversing the option without a 1-3 day process. Regarding families who are still weighing their decision to continue distance learning or attend the on-campus hybrid model, our principal, Dr. Elise Simmons stated, “The pandemic has really put us in a situation where we recognize that the health and safety of our community requires decisions made every minute. It brought awareness to a lot of us about the health and safety of our community, as well as the health and safety of our own individual family or ourselves.” she also added that “What I want to communicate to students and with parents is that whatever decision you choose there’s no judgement. It’s the decision that is best for you as a family, which I know you are also taking into consideration what is best for our community. So please just be thoughtful about your decision and weigh all of the consequences related with it and ask questions if you’re not sure.” 

By now, many students and parents are aware of the structure of hybrid learning, cohorts, and safety measures. Students who choose cohorts A or B for hybrid will only attend school twice a week on the days of their choosing and attend the other two days online through Zoom. Meanwhile, those who choose the C cohort will remain learning remotely and sit in on the in-person classes. In all, there will be all three cohorts attending one class that would usually consist of one group. These cohorts will learn asynchronously (meaning alongside each other but not together) and spend a minimum of 20 minutes working synchronously working with the A, B, and C groups. All cohorts will have a chance to participate in extracurriculars and sports teams, including the fully remote C group. For groups A and B they will have to undergo a series of steps before they are admitted to campus each day. The first is an online questionnaire (screening) through Ipass, in which parents will answer questions regarding if the student has any COVID-19 symptoms or been in contact with someone who has. The next step is an in-person visual wellness and temperature check which will be conducted at a site near the student’s first-period class. Once the student is cleared for entry they may go about their day following guidelines of wearing a mask or face covering and social distancing from others. Lunchtimes will be the same way, with students being required to sit six feet away from each other and stay on campus.

On October 28th, the principal conducted a student Q & A webinars to break down the school structure and answer any questions. I noted the main concerns at both student meetings were how the cohorts were split and how mask-wearing would be enforced. Most students did not ask questions and just came to the meeting for additional information. At the meeting and during an interview I conducted with Dr. Simmons, she stated that there would be a section in the survey for students to select which cohort they’d prefer to be in, but they could not promise their placement in that cohort.  Dr.Simmons stated, “we can’t guarantee it, for example, if everyone chooses A, not everyone gonna get A because that defeats the purpose of having two groups.” Mask wearing is a practice that protects others and yourself, and it was stated that if a student isn’t wearing a mask or is wearing it incorrectly, there would be a warning and then disciplinary action. This is because “they would not just be endangering themselves, but others around them.”

To find out more about student reactions and qualms about going back to school, I interviewed students from almost all grades. Junior Aryana Mahboob stated that she would not be going back to in-person school as, “its only two days out of the week and I don’t think you’ll get much done,” as well as, “most kids were going to parties on Halloween and they don’t social distance.” Popular Santa Barbara High meme and information source, Senior justsbhsthings, also expressed concern, not around the school’s safety precautions but students’ responsibility. They stated that “ My concern is that although going back will aid learning, school is an insane breeding ground for germs, and I don’t trust teenagers.” Sophomore Emma Sturm feels the same way stating, “ I’m extremely concerned about going back to school because I know that not everyone has been taking the necessary safety precautions and social distancing.” She continued to state, “People have been selfish and have been throwing parties because they want to continue their social life, despite the pandemic that is CURRENTLY happening.”  Many students have other people to worry about with health conditions and are not eager to put their loved ones at risk by heading to school with those who have been not as careful with COVID guidelines and regulations. Justsbhsthings is one of those who must prioritize their health and the safety of those around them, stating, “ I do actually have underlying health conditions/ live with a family member with cancer, so I personally will not be going back.” Dr. Simmons also recognized moving into “high celebration season” as something that was stopping the infection rates from decreasing as, “People are not thinking about the community, they’re thinking about just themselves. Hence why we’re still in the red.”

The parent webinar on the same date was filled with questions from concerned parents, with the chat holding about 75 questions and comments. The main issues addressed were whether those who base their decision on going back in orange could change their decision if red in January, the requirements for masks, and what is happening with the sports teams. These were the three questions at the parent meeting that I restated to Dr.Simmons on Thursday the 29th of October.  I enquired that, Some families will be choosing that decision based on assuming we’re going to go back in orange level, if it turns out we’ll be in the red, will they be able to rescind their decision? To this, Dr.Simmons responded “So we’ve already talked about this loose concept of supporting families who need to change their decision for whatever reason, from if it’s from in-person to distance learning, or from distance to in-person. Yes, we’re going to do that, but it’s not going to be this overnight [process.]” She added regarding families basing their decision on the infection/positivity rate,  “given the way county numbers have been going, it’s going to look like we’re going to be in red in January. And so as a family if that is a deterrent from being in person, being in the red, then you should probably choose distance learning” The board also made a decision on October 22 that they would still open on January 19th even in the red. Regarding masks, Simmons stated, “The answer is that we’re following the county guidelines, which is a cloth face covering, so it’s not stricter than that. So any sort of cloth face covering, so it can be a gaiter, it can be a bandana, it just needs to cover your nose and your mouth and until I hear otherwise that’s what all of the schools are implementing and going to follow that guideline.”  Regarding the cancelation of sports Dr. Simmons added, “what would cause that would be an extreme outbreak, long story short, it would be because it’s not safe” and “CIF has not changed any of the competition dates.”

Teachers’ main concerns are that they will be managing three cohorts at once in each class they teach. Dr.Simmons recounted breaking the news of the hybrid schedule to teachers, “when I shared with them the plan, they were all over the place, some were just like angry, some were really upset, it was all of the emojis that you could imagine.” but she added “at the end of  the meeting I would say where it settled was, Elise we are going to do the best we can by our students and with this model, we will be professionals, and it will be ok.” In conclusion, regarding teachers handling of the hybrid schedule, Simmons concluded, “So they’re grappling with all of that right now, I’m trying to support them as much as I can. I’m just proud of how strong, resilient, and professional they have continued to be.” 

 Student, parent, and teacher responses to the hybrid model have been varied, with students wondering about cohort selections and the safety measures in place, parents worried about the learning quality, sports reinstatement, and the overall futures of their children, and teachers wondering the strategies they will implement in order to teach all three cohorts effectively, and manage them all at once, But the main concern is, and always will be the safety of all of the people on campus , which has been prioritized every step of the way towards hybrid high school.


  • Isabella Vasquez

    Isabella (Bella) Vasquez is currently a senior in the Multimedia Arts and Design Academy at Santa Barbara high school. On her free time she enjoys mountain biking, making jewelry, and volunteering. She is honored to be the managing editor of The Forge this year, and hopes to provide quality articles and relevant news to Santa Barbara High School's community.

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