A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

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By Dr. Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

Two years have passed since COVID-19 forced schools around the world to close their doors; a tectonic shift in daily life with effects still unfolding.  

It was March 11, 2020 when the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. By Friday, March 13, many schools here and beyond  announced that campuses would cease in-person instruction and move to distance learning to help stop the spread of the virus. The decision catapulted our school leaders, teachers and staff into a logistical maze as they scrambled to convert a 200-year-old American education system into an online model in a matter of days. 

By March 28, 2020, nearly all U.S. public school buildings were closed, and almost all would remain closed for many months thereafter, affecting at least 55.1 million students in 124,000 U.S. public and private schools. (Education Week, Jan. 2022).

Dr. Salcido (courtesy photo)

Amid the closures, schools dove into problem-solving mode: How to ensure every home had computer devices, adequate Internet access, and appropriate space for remote learning?  How to redesign curriculum and instruction for Zoom school? How to connect students to meals? What about child care? Preschools?  After-school care?  Access to counselors?  Special education support services? What about sports, art, physical education, theatrical productions, field trips, upcoming dances, graduations?  

And that was just the beginning.

In the days, weeks, months and now two years that followed, school communities navigated a state of constant flux and entanglements requiring immediate solutions. The journey exposed vulnerabilities in almost every corner of the system while also bringing to light what those of us in education have long known: schools are responsible for far more than academics alone.  They are relied upon as sources of information and familial support. They provide a place of community, belonging and consistency. They connect children to other trusted adults who care about their well-being, safety, and future. They nurture children’s emotional, social, physical and intellectual development, and introduce them to life experiences different from their own.

The drastic shift in availability of these supports was confounding. 

As we moved through the first stages of the pandemic, concerns quickly emerged about inequities, gaps, and disproportionate impacts on students. Concerns also soon surfaced about student and teacher morale, learning progress and growth, and a new term: “pandemic fatigue.” Then came “Zoom fatigue,” “device fatigue,” “decision fatigue,” “mask fatigue,” and even “compassion fatigue.” 

By fall of 2020, due to health and safety restrictions including requiring six feet of distance between desks and on buses, campuses began the year with varying degrees of “openness.”  Given the social distancing mandates and space availability, some opened for only small groups of students, while others offered hybrid schedules or even full reopening. 

In early December 2020, as the virus continued to surge and COVID-19 cases placed a strain on hospital ICU units, Governor Newsom ordered a statewide stay-at-home order that pushed us into the next chapter of a book still being written. 

After more than a year of dizzying changes and inconsistencies, by fall of 2021, all of Santa Barbara County’s public school campuses were open to in-person instruction.  School communities rejoiced at being back on campus and vowed to keep their doors open to the fullest extent possible.  Oh, the joy … playgrounds full of ebullient laughter, science labs energetically testing students’ hypotheses, performing arts on stage and in motion, athletic competitions back in full swing!

Today, we find ourselves facing a new set of blended realities: relieved to see COVID-19 cases decreasing, and yet concerned about an increasing need to support individuals who feel loss, disappointment, fatigue, isolation, and depression.  We are excited about moving on, while also stopping to listen carefully to impassioned voices who have had enough and need more; grateful for how far we have come, and worried about how easily progress could be undone.

With two years behind us, public health officials are now guiding us around a new corner, one that includes understanding that this virus will be part of daily life. 

So, our COVID-19 story continues. As individuals, I’m certain that we will find ourselves moving forward at varying speeds and in many directions. In schools, we will continue to work triple-time to meet the needs of those who rely on us. And once this chapter has long ended, I hope we will find that this pandemic did not just merely occur, marked by dates or events, but that it helped forge a stronger and more resilient path for today’s children and for generations to come.

About Susan Salcido: Since 2017, Dr. Susan Salcido has served as Superintendent of Santa Barbara County Education Office, which supports 20 school districts, and nearly 70,000 students, educators, and families countywide. Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Salcido has brought school leaders and public health officials together, providing a forum for sharing information, problem-solving, and support each step of the way.

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dukemunson Mar 16, 2022 12:16 PM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

Virtually every other country in the entire world realized almost immediately that schools needed to be one of the absolute last things to close and one of the first things to open...you did the opposite. You closed schools while bars, wineries, gyms, etc, were all open. You completely abdicated your job. And the only thing you made stronger was the teachers union.

GeneralTree Mar 17, 2022 11:17 AM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

There are those that are warriors - and those that are perpetual victims. I am a warrior.
Sigh. You continue to tell untruths or mixed truths to further your agenda.
My kids returned to hybrid learning was Jan 2021. Santa Barbra moved to the red tier in March 2021 and bars and restaurants were allowed to open at 25% capacity whereas those businesses could only operate out doors previously.

dukemunson Mar 17, 2022 12:57 PM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

Wait, the "warrior" is the person who cheers on closing schools down while bars, restaurants, gyms, etc are open...that's a "warrior"? Yeah, the bars had to serve a food item like chips, fries or a taco to be open, but they were all open (food truck on site was a nice workaround). So being OK with bars being open, breweries being open and gyms being open while cheering on schools being closed is a being a "warrior"...? Interesting interpretation!

Voice of Reason Mar 16, 2022 01:11 PM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

Closing schools was the biggest mistake CA's history. It came with such incredible and long-lasting costs with no real benefit to the students. Our state political leaders and unelected bureaucrats threw our children right under the school bus for their own gain. None of this was in the students best interest. If we don't have a public school system whose paramount goal is the students, what the heck are we doing?

Channelfog Mar 16, 2022 04:03 PM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

Looking at Denmark and Sweden, one could make the argument that all lock-downs, restrictions, and masking were completely over-reaching. As with H1N1 or any other contagion, protect the vulnerable as much as possible but shackle not the Free public! I imagine that we will eventually become aware of far more societal loss from the restrictions, than from Covid life loss burden itself.
Closures, restrictions and mandates have prevented us from traveling to CA . Effective exile for those of Free Will! Hopefully any and all restrictions/mandates will evaporate soon and we can all travel, work, and enjoy our lives freely as before, and FREE OF FEAR!

sblocal1967 Mar 16, 2022 04:14 PM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

Our school boards and admin need to stop "reimagining" how to teach kids. All of their equity grading, CRT, "woke'ism" is a complete dumbing down of our education. I am convinced our highly liberal education leadership does not want our kids to be educated. They want stupid kids = stupid voters who are dependent on big government = more money for stupid administrators. Local schools have stopped keeping score of how well (poorly) they are doing at educating the kids. They are more interested in handing our free lunches and implementing the most idiotic programs that lower the bar. We elect people like Capps to the School Board who pretends to be for the kids - when all she really wants is a higher political position to line her pockets. Pathetic. We are coddling kids to think that it is not their fault if they do not attend school, do homework, turn assignments in on time, not study for tests, and get poor grades. If kids act out and do terrible things we play it down and tell them it is OK - it is the victims fault for being privileged. Either they are too rich, too smart or too athletic. I truly feel sorry for all of those teachers who chose to this profession for the right reason and just want to teach kids. These teacher's voices are being subjugated like what Putin is doing to Russian citizens. I got some advice to all of you school administrators - stick to the basics. Teach reading, writing, math and sciences. Allow kids to know that it is OK not to go to college and get into student debt. Offer vocational/trade training which is far a more important skill set than becoming a liberal poet. If kids fail, then let them fail. Life is tough and they need to know sooner than later that there are consequences to their behavior. If certain segment of kids need more help, then offer it. Give them the additional assistance - but do NOT lower the bar. If kids misbehave and do bad things, then suspend them. Encourage kids to do extracurriculars - idle hands are the devils workshop. So keep them busy. That's it.

Chevy67 Mar 16, 2022 08:52 PM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

So you're saying schools want kids to be stupid but they also push college? So many things are factually wrong with what you said but the contradictions are pretty funny. It's like one teacher called you stupid and you can't get over it.

ChillinGrillin Mar 16, 2022 09:29 PM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

Maybe next time if you plop this drivel onto the comments, take an extra 10 minutes between the Tucker Putin show and typing to gather your thoughts. Even by the very low standards of conservative commentary, this is riddled with contradictions and blatant falsehoods, then concludes with pedantic platitudes. I know conservatives and was one for a long time until I kept hearing drivel like yours and saw my party go from leading the free world to being a clown freak show.

dukemunson Mar 17, 2022 07:47 AM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

451pm - I would think that decisions and policies that tangibly harm and fail our youth, such as closing schools, wouldn’t be a partisan issue. Everyone I knew (of every political persuasion) was upset about that. It truly was a non partisan issue… unfortunately our school board made it one.l to the detriment of our kids. Which angered everyone I knew, except a few edhatters and a couple of teachers.

sfgac055 Mar 17, 2022 10:30 AM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

This goes beyond your political opinions. I know and heard from so many parents who would normally disagree on pretty much everything else but agreed that closing schools and masking kids the way we've seen over the past 2 years was wrong.

Shasta Guy Mar 17, 2022 12:58 PM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

Every dollar we spent on private school was worth the sacrifice the past two years. I think the public schools could have done it differently in this state and in this town with our year round mild weather. There’s no changing what happened and hopefully all the students can catch up.

dukemunson Mar 17, 2022 01:06 PM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

Shasta - They easily could have done it...in fact, several did (Cold Springs, Peabody). SB Unified though and GUSD though were too big to succeed...they had no need or incentive to open, they had to be mandated to be open by the Governor. GUSD took the equivalent of 1 million dollars per school to reopen...and then did nothing. No outdoor structures or tents were erected...no gardens planted. They had the weather, the land, the resources and time...they just refused to use any of them.

a-1647548272 Mar 17, 2022 01:17 PM
A Retrospective: Two years of Global Pandemic in Education

100% agree and was in / am in the same boat (either my spouse or I quit a job, or went private school). I'm amazed how well they were able to handle teaching during the pandemic, all with tuition for both my kids (total) being 33% less than what the school district receives for a single child. Things have been going so well for the family, I don't think we can go back.

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