Almost exactly a year after Santa Barbara High School transitioned to online learning, students will finally be returning to campus for their academic classes. With the Independent reporting that the two million coronavirus vaccine doses California had set aside for vulnerable communities have been administered, Santa Barbara County is now in the red tier, as the requirements have been loosened from having less than 7 daily positive covid-19 tests per 100,000 to less than ten daily positive tests per 100,000. The adjusted case rate for the past week is now 7.7 as cases have continued to decline in Santa Barbara, even as other parts of the country rebound. Under the less restrictive red tier, Santa Barbara County is allowed to reopen junior high and high schools for part-time learning. In messages sent out to students, families, and staff, SB Unified public information officer Camilla Barnwell and SBHS principal Dr. Elise Simmons both announced that students would return this Thursday and Friday, March 18 and 19. Under the hybrid model, this will give cohorts A and B both one day on campus before Spring Break while others continue learning on Zoom. About 36% of students will remain fully virtual in Cohort C as they selected. One major motivation for opening before the break is that even if Santa Barbara County reenters the purple tier, schools that were open will be allowed to remain open for the rest of the school year.
Although there have been numerous cohorts on campus since the Fall for sports, arts, and special education, this will be the most logistically challenging feat the school has undertaken during the pandemic. Santa Barbara High School published a reopening newsletter with answers to questions students may have as they prepare to return to campus. As per usual, masks will be required on campus, and a minimum distance of six feet between desks will be kept in classrooms. Furthermore, windows will be opened when possible for better ventilation. Each grade has a specified area to eat lunch outdoors where ample distance must be maintained since this takes place without masks. Students will have to fill out a Crisis Go form on a daily basis to confirm that there is no indication that they may be infected and to help with contact tracing efforts. Students will present proof of this form and have their temperature taken at a screening station upon arriving at campus. Posters plaster the walls with reminders about social distancing and hygiene, and hallways have been marked with lanes of traffic to prevent overcrowding. Students are also able to receive a free covid test through the school’s partnership with the county’s public health department. These are available for walk-ins in the afternoon on Mondays from 3 to 6 at La Cumbre Junior High and Wednesdays from 3 to 6 at Franklin Elementary School.
The schedule change to 80 minute periods and the return of teachers to campus last week are meant to make the transition to hybrid learning as smooth as possible. The reopening also lines up very closely with the start of term 4. While some students will have slight schedule changes, most will retain the same classes. This final quarter will be the only chance many students have had during the 2020-2021 school year to learn on campus, a goal that SB Unified has been pursuing since last Summer. For some students, this will be their first time setting foot on Santa Barbara High School’s historic campus. The school has prepared new student orientations on campus on Wednesday for Cohort A at 10:00 am and Cohort B at 1:00 pm. The school reopening debate has been one that has raged across the United States since last summer and some in the community have expressed mixed feelings about the safety of returning to campus, while others wonder why we couldn’t have opened last time we dropped into the red tier in October. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, currently states that with our current conditions, a school like Santa Barbara High School can safely reopen for hybrid instruction with precautions taken. For her part, Principal Simmons stated that she is “beyond excitement and cannot wait to see our students on campus again.”