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Safety in focus as Santa Barbara Unified School District kicks off school year

As Santa Barbara Unified School District starts another school year Wednesday, some students are anxious to start the new school year, while others are happy to get back to class.

“I hope I pass fourth grade,” Franklin School 4th-grader Isel Rodriguez said with a smile.

“I’m not nervous at all,” Lily Aguilar, Isel’s classmate, said. “I just know everything’s gonna be ok because I know my way around the school.”

For administrators, the anxiety is different. School safety is more of a priority this year than it has been in years past.

“I think this year we’re really emphasizing the safety piece,” said District Board of Trustees member Ismael Paredes-Ulloa. “Just making sure that our students feel safe, that our parents feel safe when they drop off their students with us.”

The district just hired its first full-time safety coordinator, and this is the first year where additional on-campus mental health services are available for district students.

After last school year saw multiple school shootings across the nation, the extra attention to safety is a relief for parents.

“You’ve got all sorts of tragedies that happen both on school campuses and off,” said Jaron Burdick whose son Theo is in kindergarten at Cleveland School. “To know that the school administration and the district is doing everything they can to really think these things through and to mitigate those risks to the best of their ability is really significant…it’s been encouraging as a parent to see that work being done and I’m excited to see what’s yet to come.”

Cleveland School Principal Gabe Sandoval knows safety is important but says the parents he’s talked to on the first day don’t seem worried.

“I think we’ve done really well here at Cleveland of building the awareness of our families,” Sandoval said. “Here the focus today on the first day was ‘who’s my teacher,’ ‘what time am I picking them up?'”

And Sandoval is happy to be getting those questions again.

“When I sit in my office all summer, I get bored,” Sandoval said. “And I just want the beautiful faces back…I’m just glad the kids are back.”

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