Santa Maria-Bonita votes in school re-entry plan that starts with distance learning

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The Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) board voted unanimously to approve a plan to begin the school year with distance learning during its July 22 virtual meeting. The vote came after hours of presentations and discussion, including commentary from the community, consideration of how the district will eventually transition back to in-person learning, and a look at planned health measures for when students eventually return.

Board members also voted in favor of a resolution “authorizing any and all necessary actions to prepare and respond to novel coronavirus.”

EDUCATION AT A DISTANCE On July 22, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District voted in a four-phase plan to eventually get kids back in the classroom. - FILE PHOTO BY JOE PAYNE
  • FILE PHOTO BY JOE PAYNE
  • EDUCATION AT A DISTANCE On July 22, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District voted in a four-phase plan to eventually get kids back in the classroom.
Superintendent Luke Ontiveros started the discussion by mentioning a recommendation he made to the board on July 17, that the district start the year with distance learning. His recommendation came just before Gov. Gavin Newsom’s official announcement that all schools in watch-listed counties are mandated to start the school year distanced. A county must be off the watch list for 14 consecutive days before school can be approved to return to in-person instruction.



During a July 15 virtual press conference held a couple of days before Newsom’s announcement, northern Santa Barbara County superintendents laid out three possible models for the fall: full in-person learning, hybrid/blended learning, or full-distance learning.

While Newsom’s order mandates that districts in Santa Barbara County begin the school year with the last option, presentations at the July 22 meeting showed the board what the other models might look like down the road.

SMBSD Assistant Superintendent Melissa Dutra presented the district’s four-phased plan for getting kids back in the classroom.

Phase one, where the district will start in the fall, is distance learning. During this phase, teachers will hold parent-teacher conferences during the first two to four weeks of school to aid in the transition.

Phase two is what the district called a “blended AB model,” meaning that students will be split into groups A and B. All students will engage in distance learning on Mondays in this phase, and group A students will attend school Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while group B will attend Thursdays and Fridays.

The plan outlines that students would be divided alphabetically, however Dutra emphasized that this might not be the best division method since it could result in unequal group sizes across grade levels. On the other hand, Dutra said, the district is also considering the importance of keeping families with multiple children on similar schedules to the extent that is possible.

“What we can guarantee you is that things in it will change,” Dutra said of the school re-entry plan as a whole.

Phase three is called “traditional (staggered).” During this phase, students will attend school every day on a regular schedule, but large gatherings will not be permitted and there would be staggered schedules for cafeterias and other large spaces.

Finally will come phase four, or “traditional,” where students will attend school every day on a normal schedule.



Deputy Superintendent Matthew Beecher presented a comprehensive sanitation and hygiene plan for in-person learning, which includes promoting hygiene practices, intensifying cleaning, implementing distancing, limiting supplies sharing between students, training all staff, educating families, checking for symptoms, planning for sickness, maintaining health operations, and considerations for partial or total closures.

Some of the many tangible steps the district is already taking include obtaining no-touch thermometers and “kid-sized” face masks, Beecher said. ∆

—Malea Martin

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