Saturday, September 19, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 29

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 16th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 29 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 29

Additional Santa Barbara County schools approved, apply for reopening waivers

By Malea Martin

Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso announced at a Sept. 15 Board of Supervisors meeting that this week the county is, once again, assigned to the “purple tier” in California’s new reopening system. This means that schools have to stay distanced, gyms and restaurants must operate outdoors, and the county continues to deal with widespread COVID-19 infection according to state metrics. 

But for K-6 schools, there’s a glimmer of hope: the state’s elementary school waiver program allows schools in purple tier counties to reopen—if they can prove that they’re ready.

So far, Do-Reynoso told the Sun, 24 schools have applied for waivers with the county. The California Department of Public Health approved 14 of those schools. Of the remaining 10, five schools are receiving technical assistance from the county to strengthen their applications, three schools submitted their applications to the state and are awaiting approval, and two more schools just submitted their applications to the county on Sept. 14.

Do-Reynoso said the approval process starts with submitting the in-depth waiver application to the county, which includes questions about cleaning and disinfection, health screening, what a school’s trigger would be to switch back to distance learning, how the school plans to cohort students, and more.

The county then assesses how strong the application is and provides technical assistance to schools that need additional documentation. Once the county’s review committee deems an application to be strong enough, “we will advance them to the CDPH [California Department of Public Health] for concurrence upon our approval process,” Do-Reynoso said. 

Northern Santa Barbara County schools approved for reopening as of Sept. 15 include Santa Ynez Valley Family School, Santa Ynez Valley Christian Academy, Pacific Christian Elementary School, Valley Christian Academy, and St. Mary of the Assumption School, according to the state’s list.  

If the county can move into the red zone for 14 consecutive days, then elementary and secondary schools will have the opportunity to return without having to go through the waiver process.

“It’s not a guarantee all the schools will open, because there are a number of complex issues that need to be addressed to ensure the safety of students and staff,” County Board of Supervisors Chair Gregg Hart said at a Sept. 11 press conference. “But, the opportunity to reopen is very important.”

Though the state’s tier system is only a few weeks old, Do-Reynoso presented a graph at the Sept. 15 Board of Supervisors meeting. The graph shows which color-coded tier the county’s case rate metric would theoretically have been placed in since March. 

“It is after Memorial Day and the reopening of many sectors that we saw an increase in our cases,” Do-Reynoso said as she presented the graph.

The county’s case rate metric moved into the purple or “widespread” tier at the beginning of July, and has remained there ever since. However, the apex of the county’s case rate occurred around July 11 and has consistently declined since then. 

“The state threshold to move from our currently designated purple tier to the less restrictive red tier is seven positive cases per 100,000 population,” Hart said at the press conference. 

With Santa Barbara County hovering around eight to nine cases per 100,000 over the past couple of weeks, “reaching the less restrictive red threshold is tantalizingly close,” Hart said. 

Weekly Poll
Should the county Public Health Department help elementary schools apply for the state’s waiver program?

Yes, that’s what the department is there for.
Schools shouldn’t open at all right now, nevermind with the county’s help.
If the state thinks schools are ready, what’s the problem?
Schools should have to fend for themselves; it shows whether they’re ready to handle reopening.

| Poll Results

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