The Santa Barbara Unified School District voted unanimously Tuesday night to transition to a hybrid learning model Jan. 19 across all district campuses.
The vote came just after Dr. Henning Ansorg, health officer for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, issued an updated health officer order which allows districts to reopen in-person with safety guidelines in place.
Tuesday’s school board meeting brought 746 attendees and 31 public comments. The largest item on the agenda was the approval of a reopening plan.
The board voted unanimously to transition to hybrid learning starting early next year. In the meantime, schools will increase the number of cohorts and extracurricular activities available when possible.
Superintendent Hilda Maldonado previously recommended transitioning elementary schools to hybrid learning Nov. 9, but she amended the decision when hearing teachers’ concerns and more district information.
Dr. Frann Wageneck, assistant superintendent, explained why the district believes full in-person learning is impractical.
In order to space students out six feet, fewer students can fit in a classroom and in a teacher’s roster. Each school needs to hire approximately eight additional teachers, at a cost of $600,000 per school. Aside from the price tag, she says, there aren’t that many teachers for hire.
In the hybrid learning model, students receive in-person instruction half of the time and study independently the rest of the week. Distance-only options will be available in any plan.
More classified workers, like custodians and paraprofessionals, are needed even in a hybrid model. For example, more recess monitors are needed in order to enforce physical distancing on the playground.
Board members seemed concerned about the amount of work ahead as they made their vote to delay the hybrid plan to Jan. 19.
“We will go hybrid eventually, but we have more work to do in my opinion,” board member Kate Ford said. “We can’t just turn on a dime and, in a few weeks time, say everything is clean and safe.”
The other board members made similar statements.
“I think January will give us time to be responsive and not reactive to what is going on,” Wendy Sims-Moten said.
More information regarding hybrid learning will be sussed out over the coming weeks.
Public commenters expressed concern for the independent learning portion of the hybrid model, saying that students get more instructional time through distance learning.
“This hybrid model will bring the five days of interaction with their teacher and classmates down to two,” Jennifer Miller, a mother of two students, said. “Our teachers have made it clear that this is not the right option.”
Many of the commenters were SB Unified teachers hesitant to return to campus.
“Given the pandemic, I want to be sure that everyone is protected. Personally, I will see 150 students in one week,” La Cumbre Junior High School teacher David Han said.
“If we go back to school, I want to make sure we have a plan, a written plan, that tells us what will happen if someone gets sick or someone breaks the rules,” he said.
Still, some were in favor of returning Nov. 9.
“We need to realize our students are not college students,” Sunita Beall, a mother of two high school students said. “We need less screen time and more personal engagement.”
In Board President Laura Capp’s statement, she expressed gratification for the comments and emails received over the past couple weeks. She said many were hesitant to return in-person and even acknowledged successes with distance learning.