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Santa Barbara - South County

County Public Health petitions State to open Santa Barbara Unified School District

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - There is growing momentum to reopen schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD). The most recent quest comes from Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, Director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

Do-Reynoso revealed to the NewsChannel early Tuesday afternoon that she'd written a Letter of Support to the State for the reopening of SBUSD within seven days of receiving the document and based it on "science and equity." This would impact K-6 grade students.

Van Do-Reynoso, Santa Barbara County Public Health Director

"It's novel. It's creative. But I think it's totally needed," said Do-Reynoso. "I didn't want to make it broad because not all schools are ready to reopen and that's ok." 

Do-Reynoso's request comes four days after the County reviewed and approved SBUSD's plan.

SBUSD is one of 20 school districts within Santa Barbara County. To date, ten of the districts are back open; some opened months ago, in 2020.

Countless parents and those behind the scenes at both the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department have said that the issue of "glaring inequities" is fueling the push to reopen.

"Is it good for the kids? If the answer is 'yes' then we should be figuring out ways to do it," said Bill Ekeler.

Bill Ekeler, a father of three sons, is an outspoken advocate for reopening all public schools. (Beth Farnsworth/KEYT)

The Santa Barbara resident and father of three sons pointed to educational, social and, emotional inequities between those students who are back on campus and those who are not. Ekeler stated with vehemence that enough is enough. He's gone through the County ranks to ask why in-person learning is happening for some students but not all.

"It makes no sense to me personally that why if it's good for 30 other schools within this County to operate, that SBUSD can't be the same."

"I fully support schools being returned," said Do-Reynoso.

Do-Reynoso, who is also a mother, said support for school re-openings is "nuanced."

"We are exploring creative ways of how we can support our schools to reopen."

Educational inequities center on local, private and public schools that were allowed to reopen within smaller, more affluent school districts. 

Hilda Maldonado, SBUSD Superintendent

"I drive by schools, private schools every day, that are open," said SBUSD Superintendent Hilda Maldonado. "They are in the exact same community that my schools are in and the exact same adjusted case rate exists for them as it does for us. I think that's unfair."

Maldonado said she and the SBUSD staff are prepared to pivot as a system to reopen schools, safely and with stringent protocols in place. 

For many, the hope is, reopening schools can happen without meeting the State's requirement of 25 cases per 100,000 residents -- just as the other districts have done.

The hope is, the State will approve the local request.

"Once those things happen we'll inform our labor partners," said Maldonado. "We have agreements with our Teacher's Union to give them a 10-working day notice prior to reopening so they can get classrooms and materials prepared. And then, for our classified staff, we will give them a five day working notice also so they can be prepared."

Maldonado said SBUSD sent the State a letter of request to reopen back in December. Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said he would look into the request but, two months later, SBUSD has not received a response.

If reopening schools in Santa Barbara County is approved, it will be without COVID-19 vaccinations for all students, teachers and staff. 

"Just like during the pandemic, we have people with serious health concerns that rightfully have concerns and, we have accommodations," said Maldonado. "We have plans for how to support them, whether its health compromised situations or family members with health compromised."

Do-Reynoso said if the State denies the request, SBUSD will delay reopening and she will make a personal appeal.

"I won't take 'no' for an answer," she said with a chuckle.

California / Community / Coronavirus / Economy / Education / Health / Latino / Latino Local / Local Politics / Safe at Home / Safety
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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3. To learn more about Beth, click here

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