The Goleta Union School District planned for months of COVID-19 precautions during its board meeting Wednesday evening.
Superintendent Dr. Donna Lewis presented the district’s options for reopening under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Safe Schools for All” proposal.
The proposal, which has not been approved by the state legislature, provides elementary schools $450 per student if they apply and submit a safety plan to local and state health authorities by Feb. 1. Schools can open once their county reaches below 25 cases per 100,000 residents and must maintain regular COVID-19 testing of students and staff.
“The strange thing about this ‘Safe Schools for All’ proposal is the governor’s proposal has not yet been approved by the legislature, so there are no funds currently really available. And there’s no application that you can use,” Dr. Lewis said. “There’s nothing you can do to get this money right now.”
The case rate in Santa Barbara County is 80 cases per 100,000 so when applications open, the district can submit a plan but won’t be able to reopen until the case rate drastically decreases.
“We have people in a community that want us to set a date, by what date in the Goleta Union School District, can we target the reopening of schools. And I need everyone to understand it isn’t about a date right now. It’s about getting case rates in our community down to less than 25 per 100,000,” she said.
She also noted the problem with consistent surveillance testing.
“The reality is to do all the testing and the testing cadence rate required to test all students and staff is going to cost more than what the money that (Gov. Newsom) is going to give,” she said. “The testing requirement, as I just mentioned, is really the biggest hurdle.”
Earlier in the meeting, the board approved an amendment to the agreement with Merso Labs which changes the testing protocol from individual to pool tests. This means the lab will combine three samples and if it tests positive, then all three individuals will be tested separately to confirm who the positive case is.
This method will lower the cost from $75 to $115 per person. The district can save more money by testing with a state-run laboratory in Valencia, but administrators are wary of making the switch.
“We’re working with (the Valencia lab) to figure out whether we can move towards them,” said David Simmons, assistant superintendent of human resources. “At this point, nobody in the county has yet. This is one of those things that we don’t want to leap before we look.”
Unable to predict the reopening of school campuses, the district strategized what it could control: summer school.
Conrad Tedeschi, assistant superintendent of fiscal services, authorized administrators to spend a large sum of money to staff summer school.
“It’s not limited by the funding; it’s more limited by staffing and doing it safely. In terms of staff, one of the first incentives, we’re trying to make it easier for teachers to enjoy teaching,” Dr. Mary Kahn, assistant superintendent of instructional services, said. “It’s going to be hard enough teaching in person and managing kids who haven’t been in school.
“And so we really don’t want them to have to make the curriculum up, which has really been something that they’ve spent a lot of time on when they’ve previously supported summer school.”
She is working on creating a comprehensive curriculum for summer-school teachers to adapt for their small cohorts.
Summer school will serve as a time for students to catch up, as more this year are struggling.
Dr. Kahn reviewed the students’ results in the Star 360 software, a program that assesses the learning level of students.
“During the COVID pandemic, we are experiencing the highest participation in our Star 360, and I think that’s just really the heroic efforts of our teachers to continue the great work they are doing,” she said.
Although participation has increased, a greater percentage of students are struggling in comparison to previous years.
“We’re not seeing the major losses that other districts are reporting to see. We do know every single kid that is struggling, and we’re working to have a right fit plan for them. And overall, we’re seeing continued growth,” Dr. Kahn reported.
The district is continuing its search for a new superintendent for the 2021-22 school year. The board approved plans for student achievement, which Dr. Lewis described as “the best batch of school plans that I have seen in my career.”