County Public Health Department asks for state approval for district
Santa Barbara County Public Health is sending a letter to the California Department of Public Health asking to reopen Santa Barbara Unified elementary campuses. The schools may open as soon as Feb. 26 if the request is approved by the state.
Superintendent Hilda Maldonado and school board President Kate Ford wrote a letter to Santa Barbara County Public Health asking to pause or “weave” educators into the current vaccination schedule.
In the letter, the district offered its campuses as vaccination sites, with intentions of creating a prioritization list and helping schedule appointments.
Currently, school staff members are in Phase 1B Tier 1, which is the next tier to be vaccinated. Alongside childcare and education, it includes people 65 and older, emergency services, food/grocery and agricultural workers.
On Tuesday afternoon, community members and SB Unified families drove to schools and City Hall, honking their car horns to advocate for the reopening of schools. Dr. Sunita Beall organized the car parade because she felt Zoom board meetings didn’t convey the number of people pushing for in-person instruction.
The board met Tuesday evening, and administrators provided updates regarding its readiness to reopen.
Dr. Frann Wageneck, assistant superintendent, expressed optimism even if the state rejects the county’s proposal.
“We’ve been very confident that the numbers are going to continue to drop and we’ll be able to open, so we’ve been preparing the elementary schools for going to reopen in hybrid learning as early as Feb. 26,” she said. “And then we’re even now looking beyond that, too, when we get into the red (tier).
“So if the trends in the data continue, we feel confident that we will reach the red tier with time to reopen our secondary schools, so our secondary principals are also mobilizing and getting ready to reopen.”
Dr. Wageneck also clarified the state of COVID-19 on campus in small cohorts.
“Everyday on campus, in total, we have upwards of 3,000 individual staff and students who are on 17 campuses,” she said. “75% of our cases have been adults. 25% were students. Only nine cases were probable transmissions; that’s a really important piece of this.”
The nine cases of transmission were in staff members, not students.
“Those transmissions occurred because safety protocols that we have laid out, our very strict protocols lapsed and were not followed in those cases. We have talked to the individuals involved, principals and other supervisors and leaders and followed up with staff members to tighten up,” she said.
Usha Atterbury, La Colina Junior High teacher, called in a public comment upset about the transmissions and the idea of returning to campus soon.
“I’m speaking tonight to tell you not to open schools until all teachers and staff have had a chance to receive the COVID-19 vaccination,” she said. “I think it would be incredibly irresponsible to risk the lives of teachers and staff when we could have the chance to get vaccinated in a matter of weeks.”
Karen McBride, Santa Barbara Teachers Association president, also spoke about vaccines.
“It’s going to be real, real soon if we go back without vaccinations,” she said.
But she also added that the district and union representatives have been meeting consistently.
“Both of the unions have been involved all along in shaping the processes that are happening on campus right now,” she said.
The unions signed an agreement with SB Unified in August setting the conditions teachers would work, but this occurred before COVID-19 vaccines were authorized for emergency use.
“The union is not standing in the way. It is not and has not been,” Ms. McBride told the News-Press. “The comments people have heard in board meetings from either myself or certificated staff members have been attempts to persuade the district.”
During the board meeting, member Laura Capps described vaccines as “the way in which this will all work.”
But vaccines are at a shortage, not just at the county-level but everywhere.
“We are all honestly frustrated that we don’t have enough vaccines to do it quickly, but we’re doing everything we can,” Santa Barbara County Public Health Department school liaison Susan Klein-Rothschild said.
This week, administrators will be confirming elementary classroom arrangements for social distancing. SB Unified parents will confirm their selection they made in the fall for in-person or distance learning, should schools reopen.
The district will hold an information session for elementary school families at 5:30 p.m. in English and at 7 p.m. in Spanish today via Zoom. Administrators will explain the health and safety protocols and look at the hybrid learning schedule.