Tuesday, April 13, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 6

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 3rd, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 1

Some North County schools return to in-person, Santa Maria-Bonita isn't yet

By Malea Martin

While Orcutt Union School District and Lompoc Unified School District are set to reopen for elementary grade level in-person instruction early next week, Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) will remain at a distance for the time being.

Santa Maria-Bonita School District isn’t ready to return to in-person instruction yet, school officials say, but may be required to do so by mid-April.

According to state guidelines, once a county brings its adjusted case rate per 100,000 population to under 25 for five consecutive days, transitional kindergarten (TK) through sixth grades can reopen for in-person instruction. As of March 2, Santa Barbara County’s case rate sat at 13, giving elementary schools the green light to return to in-person.

Before reopening, districts are required to have their school safety plans approved by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, county Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Salcido wrote in a Feb. 18 letter. Both the Lompoc and Orcutt school districts have approved safety plans on file with the department, Salcido wrote.

Orcutt Superintendent Holly Edds wrote a letter to the district community stating that on March 9, “we will move forward with phasing in our TK-6 blended learning program beginning with our transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students and will continue to add additional grades and cohorts over a two-week period.” The district is dividing each grade of students into cohorts A and B, which will alternate between being in person and at a distance.

Lompoc is taking a similar approach: According to a schedule posted to the district’s website, cohort A students will learn in-person in the mornings, and cohort B students in the afternoons. All students will be at a distance on Wednesdays. 

But Santa Maria-Bonita won’t yet be taking advantage of the new elementary school allowances afforded by the county’s case rate. At a Feb. 24 special meeting, school board members and district leadership met virtually to discuss why the district isn’t ready yet.

Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Melissa Dutra said that SMBSD is opting to watch and learn from other large districts that are outside of Santa Barbara County.

“We are a big district,” Dutra said. “We can’t look at our local districts and say, ‘Let’s do what they’re doing,’ because we’re different.”

However, new state legislation may force the district to move more quickly on a return to the classroom. Assembly Bill 86 and Senate Bill 86 are companion bills in California that passed in mid-January and require all schools to offer optional in-person instruction to certain vulnerable groups of students across all grade levels by April 15, SMBSD Superintendent Luke Ontiveros said at the meeting. The bills also require all schools in red, orange, and yellow tier counties to reopen K through 6 instruction by April 15.

“It’s likely in another six weeks, we may, if this trend continues, we may be in the red tier,” Ontiveros said. “And at that point, we will be required at a K [through] 6 level to open.”

While public comment at the meeting included those both in support and against the district’s choice to remain at a distance, many teachers were hesitant about returning to the classroom. 

Sanchez Elementary sixth-grade teacher Lucia Carmona-Uribe said in a written public comment that adding in-person instruction to the distance model will increase challenges for teachers and may lower the quality of instruction for students.

“We will need to reteach many first week-of-school norms as well as new pandemic-era norms,” Carmona-Uribe wrote. “This will greatly take away time from academic instruction. I also worry that a hybrid schedule will give students less synchronous time with their teachers than our current distance learning schedule allows, further diminishing the academic [instruction] students receive.”

Other teachers expressed concerns about returning to in-person instruction before being vaccinated. While Santa Barbara County opened up its first vaccine clinics for educators during the week of March 1, availability remains limited.

“I am concerned about going back to school without being vaccinated,” El Camino Junior High teacher Elizabeth Martinez said in a written public comment. “Being of Native American heritage, I’ve had five members of my family lose their battle with COVID over the past year. … The district needs to take steps to make sure their staff has a fighting chance to survive this virus.” 

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