The Santa Barbara county school district started the school year online, but through Governor Newsom’s public health order, the county has been able to open some schools for in-person classes. According to California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, counties that have maintained red tier transmission status — which indicates there is a substantial risk regarding COVID-19 — are sanctioned to conduct in-person classes. Santa Barbara county has been in the red tier for two weeks and began in-person instruction in K-12 schools on Oct. 13.
In an interview with The Bottom Line, Susan Salcido — a UC Santa Barbara alumnus and superintendent of Santa Barbara county schools — explained the district’s plan for reopening.
“Schools are opening campuses at different times as their governing boards carefully consider local factors, including regional COVID-19 data, the size and grade levels of the student body, the ability to physically distance within facilities, transportation, and the health and safety of students and staff,” Salcido said.
Salcido went on to explain the complexity in opening schools, stating that some Santa Barbara schools are located in rural areas and others in dense, populated urban areas, which makes reopening schools difficult and staggered across the county.
The Bottom Line asked Salcido to elaborate on some of the risks of opening K-12 schools during the pandemic. Salcido emphasized the work the county is doing and plans to address student, staff, and parent mental health in order to make everybody feel safe with the reopening of schools.
“Our school districts [will] continue to work closely with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department to safely reopen, and keep open, our schools,” Salcido explained.
The county’s concerns address the weight on the teachers to feel safe and able to teach the students to the best of their abilities, as well as students’ and parents’ safety in the re-opening process.
Parents and educators have been raising awareness of the risks in sending students back to learn in person. Salcido has received “emails, texts, and phone calls daily from parents, students, and teachers worried about learning loss and mental health in the isolation of distance learning, and COVID-19 impacts as schools reopen.”
However, Salcido also mentioned that there has been positive feedback from students currently attending in-person class, making it difficult to find a happy medium. She expressed the difficulty in compromising between the needs of parents, teachers, and students, who all have valid concerns about safety but also want to make meaningful in-person connections. Ultimately, Salcido concluded, “there is not a one-size-fits-all answer, but we will continue to work together to find solutions that will bring students and teachers back to campuses safely.”