As Santa Maria area schools discuss future, Newsom announces COVID-19 requirements for schools

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On July 15, superintendents Antonio Garcia of Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, Emilio Handall of Guadalupe Union School District, Holly Edds of Orcutt Union School District, and Luke Ontiveros of Santa Maria-Bonita School District each gave updates on their respective districts’ plans in the face the ongoing and worsening pandemic.

NEW MANDATES Days after local school districts talked about what the fall would like for students, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that counties must be off the state watch list for 14 consecutive days before students can get back in the classroom. - FILE PHOTO BY SPENCER COLE
  • FILE PHOTO BY SPENCER COLE
  • NEW MANDATES Days after local school districts talked about what the fall would like for students, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that counties must be off the state watch list for 14 consecutive days before students can get back in the classroom.
“Our four districts really are integrated,” Ontiveros said during the press conference. “We share students across boundaries. We share students within regional programs from across our communities.”

For that reason, Ontiveros said, the districts are working to make their plans “as similar as possible, knowing that they can’t be identical … But we want to ensure that there are as many common elements as possible so that we can mitigate the disruption that has already been caused and will continue to be caused to families as we enter the 2021 school year.”



Ontiveros said that the four school districts’ plans all include three fundamental design possibilities.

The first design would be full return, “meeting all the public health guidelines with the social distancing pieces in place, with the contact tracing,” he said.

On the “opposite end of the scale,” Ontiveros continued, is the option of full distance learning, similar to what schools adapted to in March.

The third option is a hybrid model “that would bring children back on a limited scale, depending on need, and then supported outside of school through that distance learning piece,” Ontiveros explained. “We’re all in the throes of generating those plans.”

Ontiveros said that the hybrid model would consider both children with special learning needs as well as those who might not have access to quality distance learning at home, “depending on need.”

Santa Maria Joint Union High School District Superintendent Garcia said that he presented the three options to his board of education on July 14, and the district has a special board meeting slated for July 23 during which board members are expected to make a decision. Santa Maria-Bonita School District’s Board of Education is agendized to decide on July 22.

But with a rapidly changing public health situation in Santa Barbara County, the ability to enact a fully in-person model in a manner that meets guidelines could be off the table entirely. At a press conference on July 17, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that schools can only physically open for in-person education if a county has been off the state’s monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. Santa Barbara County is still on the watch list.

Schools in counties that are on the list must begin the school year through distance learning, Newsom announced.

Garcia said his district’s No. 1 priority is the health and safety of students. The next priority is student learning and wellbeing, and then ensuring that students have equitable access to high quality education.



He added that looking at the situation with a local context is key, given that Santa Maria’s cases are disproportionate to the rest of the county.

At this point, he said, “we are trending towards the full distance” but also “considering a hybrid model.” Thinking through the different options is worthwhile since an eventual transition is inevitable, Garcia said.

“At some point we’re going to have to transition from one to the other, regardless of where we start, just given the dynamics and changing situation with this pandemic,” Garcia said. ∆

—Malea Martin

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