Students back on campuses; governor announces pact with legislators
Elementary school campuses within the Santa Barbara Unified School District reopened Monday for transitional kindergarten through first-grade students — almost a year after closing their doors.
The remaining elementary grades will join Thursday.
Soon after students arrived on campus, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an agreement he made with legislative leaders to give a total of $2 billion for districts that open transitional kindergarten through second grades by April 1.
An additional $4.6 billion will fund efforts to mitigate learning loss. The state legislature will vote on the proposal Thursday.
The scene at McKinley Elementary School was cheerful as teachers and students (who have been learning together via Zoom for more than 100 days) met in person.
Outside, kids giggled as they spent recess jumping rope and drawing on the blacktop with chalk. Both ropes and chalk were provided by the school to every student, who was encouraged to be COVID-safe.
Students washed their hands at a mobile hand-washing station before marching back into their classrooms.
“Oh, I love seeing the kids,” McKinley Principal Elena Garcia-Yoshitomi told the News-Press Monday. “The kids just seem so happy to be here.”
Last week, she joined classes via Zoom to ask students what they thought about returning to campus. The students danced around to show their excitement.
“The most frequently stated comment that I heard was, ‘I’m so excited to learn with you.’ That’s what they were telling their teachers,” she said.
Teachers prepared their classrooms last week. Facilities staff had already arranged desks for social distancing and taped guides on the ground.
“There was a lot of excitement and nervousness because we just wanted to make everything right and welcoming; it’s that balance of safety and welcoming,” Ms. Garcia-Yoshitomi said.
Ana Escobedo, assistant superintendent of elementary education, visited every elementary school Monday morning to see how principals were doing.
“This is really what we worked so hard for. I think it really was that first day of school feeling; you can’t sleep, you’re restless,” she told the News-Press. “I’ve had 27 years of first days, and never have I ever been prouder, never.”
District officials have had to bend with changing policies and new health guidance since the district proposed reopening earlier in the school year.
“It has been quite the roller coaster,” she said. “We’ve all been educators; we’ve all been principals. Nobody had ever been principals or educators in a pandemic. And we did that.”
On Monday, education and childcare workers became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and 10% of the state’s allotment is dedicated to educators.
Ms. Garcia-Yoshitomi described the vaccine eligibility as a “huge win for teachers.”
The reopening proposal described by Gov. Newsom clarifies that teacher vaccinations are not required for reopening, though labor union agreements are a valid excuse for not opening doors.
Surveillance testing of students was a large concern that local districts had with the previous reopening bill. But the latest proposal removes the requirement to test students for COVID-19 if districts open or plan to open by the end of March.
Surveillance testing is also not required in red-tier counties.
When the county reaches the red tier, all elementary school grades must reopen, and districts should commit to open at least one middle or high school grade under the proposal.