The Santa Barbara Unified School District is more than doubling students’ on-campus instruction time by the end of the month, district officials told board members during its meeting Tuesday night.
Elementary school students will attend classes on campus five days a week starting Monday, and secondary schools will open four days a week April 19.
Board members had questions, though details were sparse. But the return to campus was not up for a vote.
“It is not a vote; we’re not asking for an action, we’re basically reporting to you,” Superintendent Hilda Maldonado said as she ended the COVID-19 discussion item. “We will go to the five days in elementary starting April 12 and the four days with the Wednesday distance learning for secondary April 19, and that is really the conclusion for this report.”
District officials were confident in the decision to further reopen campuses given new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance allowing students to sit three feet apart and anticipate a five-day schedule next school year.
“Based on Gov. Newsom’s announcement … we’re likely to go to full-in person learning (next year) if we meet all the criteria,” Superintendent Maldonado said.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced intentions to open the state, ending the tier system, June 15 should hospitalizations continue to decrease and residents have access to vaccines.
Board members expressed concern for the student cohort who are continuing to learn virtually.
“We will be bringing a more robust report to you in our next meeting, but I want to assure the parents on this call tonight, the public that we will maintain the rigor of distance learning,” Superintendent Maldonado said. “Because we know that education as we know it has changed, and that may become one of our permanent programs going forward, so I don’t want to lose sight of that.”
District officials continually promised more details in the next meeting, which is scheduled for April 27.
In the meantime, both in-person cohorts will merge and double the amount of students on campus. The students will keep their same teacher for the last weeks of the school year.
“I would love if, when you come back in April, if you can really show us visually how it works to have big sixth graders in class sizes of 32, socially distanced with three feet in between,” Board President Kate Ford said.
Although board members have been pushing for more days on campus (Board member Laura Capps recommended in the last two meetings to add Wednesdays to the schedule.), the five-day and four-day week was met with hesitation.
The only public comment on the return to campus came from Hillary Blackerby, planning and marketing manager at Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District.
“We have been working with district staff for over a year to plan, prepare, be flexible, start over and prepare again all to be ready to operate our 17 booster routes to and from the junior high and high schools when students return to campus,” she said.
MTD prepared to add Wednesdays to its schedules and pivoted Monday when district officials met with MTD and announced the shift to four-day weeks.
She wrote a letter to the superintendent and board president last week about sudden changes.
“We’ve become much more flexible and nimble this past year but any changes to our schedule takes a great deal of work,” she said.
“While we don’t have any kind of contract or agreement with the district to provide this service, we take our duty of getting students to school very seriously. That means working with up-to-date information and with enough notice to make it happen.”
District officials also presented preliminary summer-school plans, including incentives for teachers to work during the summer.
The board approved the incentive pay, at a cost of $900,000, to be funded through learning-loss mitigation funds.
Administrators plan to hold summer school Monday to Thursday, which was questioned by board member Virginia Alvarez.
“I want to make sure no family, no students are left out of a summer program because they need a place to go on a Friday,” she said.
Ana Escobedo, assistant superintendent of elementary education, explained that the four-day schedule was created to make summer school more appealing to teachers.
Ms. Alvarez and board clerk Wendy Sims-Moten asked if administrators had surveyed teachers about intentions to work in the summer.
Dr. John Becchio, assistant superintendent of human resources, said a survey would be launched pending the board’s approval of the incentive program.
Superintendent Maldonado clarified that teachers have been made aware of the summer schedule, which is June 14 to July 23.
The summer program is aimed at vulnerable students, like emergent multilingual learners and high schoolers behind on credits.
Board members asked for more details about student prioritization, which administrators promised will be shared next meeting.
There were successes shared during the meeting, such as low test positivity rates in the district’s COVID-19 testing.
At the start of the school board meeting, the San Marcos High School Mock Trial team was recognized in Superintendent Maldonado’s report.
The Royals team won the Santa Barbara County mock trial championship late February and took fourth out of 32 teams in the California state mock trial championship.
The team competed via Zoom March 18-21, as students participated in real-life scenarios, acting as attorneys, witnesses and detectives.
Senior Jack Strand was awarded “Best Police Officer in the State.”
Teacher Luke Ohrn and attorneys Hilary Dozer and Jim Kreyger coach the team, and students Ayla Sutter, Owen Williams, Peri Wilby and Makena Shlens are captains.
“In 15 years of coaching Mock Trial at San Marcos, this team stands apart as being steadfast in their mission, resilient, and tenacious,” said Coach Ohrn in a news release. “They made the best of a difficult situation and showed real strength of character as they worked hard during every Zoom practice, scrimmage, and at the county and state competitions. I am very proud to have worked with these terrific students and our adult coaches.”
The full meeting is available to watch on the district’s YouTube page: youtube.com/watch?v=LChzsAYEHgk.