SBUnified to Open the School Year With 100% Distance Learning

Gov. Newsom AnnouncementCalifornia Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that Santa Barbara Unified School District – as well as all districts across Santa Barbara County – must open the school year with a 100% Distance Learning model.

The ability to physically open campus to in-person instruction is based on local COVID-19 rates and data. According to the Governor’s announcement, counties must be off the state “watch list” for 14 consecutive days before school campuses can physically open. Santa Barbara County has been on the watch list for an extended period of time. Based on the state’s metrics:

  • A county must keep its number of new cases below 100 per 100,000 residents
    • In the past two weeks: Santa Barbara County = 310 per 100,000
  • A county must have a test positivity rate of < 8%
    • Santa Barbara County’s current positivity rate is 9.7%

SBUnified staff had been poised to present a proposal for Fall reopening plans at the Tuesday, July 21 board meeting. The Governor’s new mandate preempts that proposal.

According to SBUnified Superintendent Hilda Maldonado, “Our number one priority is to learn from the experience we had in the Spring, and deliver improved and rigorous Distance Learning that meets the needs of all students, especially our Multilingual learners, Students with Disabilities and African American students. We are committed to providing families and students with increased support such as webinars with the principals, online tutors, direct communication with teachers and more engaging content and curriculum.”

Maldonado said the district will continue to bring sharpened focus to serving those students whose needs are not being well met.

“The pandemic has exacerbated the racial inequities prevalent across the nation and Santa Barbara, and we will continue to address these gaps and are looking forward to the additional funding the Governor has promised to support us in this work,” she said. “We will share more details on this and other aspects of our plan at our upcoming July 21 board meeting. Our principals, teachers and staff are educational experts and learners and are getting prepared to implement stronger Distance Learning instruction. They are bright and resourceful thinkers. We know we can do this in a way that makes our students feel cared for and also fosters their academic growth.”

Maldonado said that there is no question that there were flaws in the “emergency teaching” that was done in a state of shock in the Spring when districts were forced to abruptly close down. “We have taken stock and are learning from those challenges. Teachers will be receiving training on effective distance learning, using only one platform to communicate with students and parents and aligning their lessons, for example.”

As the district shifts its focus toward preparing for improved Distance Learning implementation, a team will continue to be tasked with building our contingency plans so that campuses can reopen when health and safety thresholds are met.

“We look forward to the day we can all be back in schools together,” said Frann Wageneck, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services. “Let’s do our part to get kids back in school by wearing our masks, physically distancing, washing our hands and minimally mixing. We are all in this together everybody.”

Following the Governor’s Friday announcement, Santa Barbara Unified School Board members shared their reactions in response.

Board President Laura Capps: I implore our community to get this pandemic under control so our county’s school children can physically return to class.  As a mom, I  can’t wait for the golden day when our students are back in school, getting the in-person education we all agree is best, and socializing and enjoying all the activities they deserve.  To get there, given the Governor’s mandate, we ALL need to do our part by social distancing and making short term sacrifices and our leaders need to  — at a minimum – enforce mask wearing and other basic safety measures.

Board Vice President Jackie Reid: In light of Governor Newsom’s mandate, the district needs to continue to rigorously focus on improving remote teaching and learning across K-12 classrooms.  We must take this opportunity to strategize new ways to improve our literacy and academic scores by utilizing small cohort models designed to meet the needs of all students equitably and be poised to move to another teaching and learning model based on the health and safety conditions that have been framed.

Board Member Kate Ford: With today’s mandate from Governor Newsom, there is a specific goal to work towards as a county. We now have the wonderful opportunity as a team of parents, students, teachers, school staffs, and community members 1) to lower our spread of Covid 19 (with masks and social distancing) so that our county gets off the state’s monitoring list and 2) to work to provide a meaningful, safe, and exciting remote learning experience until that time.  Santa Barbara County, we can do this! 

Board Clerk Rose Muñoz: The health of our students and school community is paramount.  We will have a comprehensive plan for learning to meet the needs of ALL of our students to ensure that they have the opportunity to learn in a safe and most effective manner.

Board member Wendy Sims-Moten: Science, Data and safe community practices are the keys to safely reopening  our community and schools and to keeping them opened.

The school board meeting is set for 6:30 pm, Tuesday, July 21. Click HERE for details.

For questions, contact SBUnified Public Information Officer Camie Barnwell at cbarnwell@sbunified.org.