SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

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By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

Just two months ago, sharp declines in Covid cases and the success of vaccines against the virus at last augured a normal school year for students, teachers and parents, after the pandemic had thrown the previous two into disarray.

So much for augury.

The sudden widespread transmission of the Delta variant of the virus, coupled with disappointingly low vaccination levels, and a whole new set of orders, regulations and "guidance" from Sacramento, together have reintroduced uncertainty as the chief operating principle for local school districts, here and across the nation.

"We are in a pandemic. It is completely unpredictable -- but it doesn't mean we can't plan for it," Dr. Hilda Maldonado, superintendent of Santa Barbara Unified School District told Newsmakers in a back-to-school interview a few days ago..

"We're not going in blind," she added. "We have contingency plans in place."

Amid community conflict, questions and confusion over mandates for masks and vaccines for teachers and students, Maldonado said she is absolutely sure about one thing: Santa Barbara Unified schools will open on Tuesday - and then stay open.

Last year, K-12 classes were held remotely for almost the entire year in Santa Barbara, but now the American College of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and other authorities are urging that schools across the country reopen as a priority.

"We are 150 percent committed to keeping our kids in school and keeping our schools open," the superintendent said. "That is our main mission, because that is why we exist."

"I really believe that we have learned to be more agile and more flexible" over the past year, she added. "And we'll be doing that as these things happen and change."

In the interview, Maldonado said that 89 percent of the district's teachers have presented verification of vaccination, as of last Friday, which is not only an encouraging signal of their enthusiasm for returning to classrooms but also a reflection of how teachers unions nationwide have dropped their previous resistance to such mandates.

"I'm very proud of our teachers," she said.

With children 12 years and older eligible for the vaccine, it is not yet known how many students in that cohort have received it, but Maldonado said the district is working with the Public Health Department to bring mobile clinics to the high schools and junior highs for students whose families want them to get a shot.

To date, she stated, very few students -- only about 100 out of more than 12,000 in the district -- have opted into the Alternative Learning Program established for those who do not wish to return to classrooms, or who will not comply with the mandate to wear a mask indoors at all times.

"We know that parents have different choices for their children when it comes to whether or not they want them to wear a mask or whether or not they want them vaccinated or whether or not they require certain accommodations," she said. "Now that we've had legislation from the state (requiring) the Independent Study Program as the program of choice, if you don't want to do the in-person school, then that's what the parents will be offered."

At a time when the Delta variant is raging in areas with low vaccination rates, and pediatric hospitalizations are soaring, schools in half-a-dozen states, including Georgia, Mississippi and Texas, already have been forced to temporarily close. The superintendent said she and the district's executive cabinet have engaged in detailed risk assessment planning for how to manage possible outbreaks in Santa Barbara schools.

"As far as what we have done, I have to say that I have an extremely capable cabinet, along with principals, and they have been working out scenarios: What if it's 10 kids in a classroom in elementary versus junior high versus high school? What will that look like? What if it's the teacher? What if it's the whole class?" she said.

"So we're now working on models of responses that we will have in place," she added. "They started off with, I don't know, 10 different scenarios, and then we just kind of worked through it, worked through it."

In our 30-minute conversation, Superintendent Maldonado also discussed the district's plan to have all students self-test with nasal swabs; the "decision tree" established to comply with the state's latest raft of regulations; specific health and safety protocols set up in every school to help prevent the spread of the virus; and what is known so far about "learning loss" because of last year's remote classes.

She also described several new programs, some financed by federal pandemic funds, to improve language literacy at the elementary level, to track and guide student achievement at all levels and to establish a "whole child health initiative" to provide eye, ear and dental checkups for students who need them.

"There's a lot of systemic changes that we're making," Maldonado said. "We're not going to just try to study the problem -- we're going to attack it from the get-go."

Check out our conversation with Dr. Hilda Maldonado via YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here.

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dukemunson Aug 16, 2021 11:06 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

This is truly is the funniest article ever written on here!!!! It's just so perfect on so many levels...

"We are 150 percent committed to keeping our kids in school and keeping our schools open," the superintendent said. "That is our main mission, because that is why we exist."

Chip of SB Aug 16, 2021 11:13 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

A lot of families with the means to do so have moved their children to private schools, other schooling options, or opted for homeschooling in response to the recent school closures. There is talk of putting an initiative on the ballot for next year’s election that would help to financially empower lower income families to make similar choices. The proposed initiative would create an education savings account for every child that would allow parents to use the public education funds set aside for their child, about $10k per year, as they see fit. I think this would provide tremendous relief to families that have been impacted by public school closures.

PdW Aug 16, 2021 11:13 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

"There's a lot of systemic changes that we're making," Maldonado said. "We're not going to just try to study the problem -- we're going to attack it from the get-go."

Glad to hear that you aren't just going to "study" the problems. Rather odd that you feel compelled to point that out though, isn't that a fundamental aspect of any job, to "fix" problems? Or does it take 100% effort to study a problem, and then the additional 50% lets you "attack" it?

dukemunson Aug 16, 2021 12:37 PM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Come on Sac, this is good humor. I mean, not the fact that this the thinking that's in charge of our kids, that's terrifying...but the quotes are just great! They are going to do something about problems instead of just studying them...what a novel concept!!!!

PitMix Aug 17, 2021 07:26 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Have you heard of charter schools? Maybe read a newspaper now and then.

But the privatization of the public school system is not going to result in a better system, it will just be more unequal than it is now. Not that you care at all.

Voice of Reason Aug 17, 2021 08:58 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Hahahahaha Pit, wasn't this you just yesterday: "Based on what data? It sounds to me like you make up official sounding pronouncements that are in line with your beliefs but aren't actually based on facts. I guess that is the new normal?" It's below, about 7 comments down. While several here don't share your opinion on most issues you're the only one that is consistently condescending, rude, and hypocritical. Before insulting others about reading up on current events do you have any "data" that shows schools vouchers will not result in a better system? How will giving parents an option make it more unequal than now? Of course you have data that shows Byz doesn't care about their kids? Or is it just more official sounding pronouncements that are in line with your beliefs but not based on facts?

Byzantium Aug 16, 2021 01:24 PM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Trust but verify - "closure of Georgia schools because of covid": three very tiny school districts felt it was better to shut down temporarily due to their quarantine requirements, not due to any heavy overload of covid cases themselves, that is what kept most of the other kids out of school. There are many very small school districts scattered around Georgia and Mississippi, probably Texas as well. So this is a very misleading claim for our own school district superintendent to have made in argument for her own policy recommendations. Hope she does not get all of her policy input from east coast media resources.

edney Aug 17, 2021 09:18 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Hillsborough County is Tampa FLA and run by Democrats (I'd say Progressives, but closing things sounds regressive) I fully expect some of the deep blue counties in FLA like Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Citrus etc to follow suit. Questions? Will they let kids play football?
I'd expect Harris County, Dallas County, Bexar County, and some of the the other blue counties clustered around these three to close, but still play football

Transparent Aug 16, 2021 02:13 PM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Aiming for being maximally "open" is important, but is again a very minimal bar.

Yes, tons of folks went private during the forced closure because privates adapted so much better. If / when a forced closure happens again (I'm betting it will), parents need to demand our schools respond with quality, attention, and real expectation similar to the privates. Saying all kids pass no matter what just masks the problem (past and future). Our system did that not to protect the kids, as it claimed, but to protect itself by hiding how poorly it did by our students.

We need to demand A+ quality within the free, public system.

dukemunson Aug 16, 2021 03:52 PM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Jokes aside… this why you existed last year as well… why did you abdicate your duty then? In the absence of a mandate (but in the presence of overwhelming CDC data that you need to be open and as you stated, it’s the very reason you exist) you stayed closed…

Were you sticking to just 110% last year…?

letmego Aug 17, 2021 09:28 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Hey, just let it go. Last year was different -
- the district wasn't allowed to open until October. They decided to wait in order to prepare, and they really thought they could open in January (oops).
- when the numbers came down to the state approved numbers to open, they opened. And went back 5 days as soon as allowed.
- there was no vaccine yet

This year, at least there is a vaccine - unfortunately, Delta is much more transmissible. This does not give me the warm and fuzzies for my unvaccinated child BUT I am reasonably confident that with masks and with regular testing that the school will keep things under control.

I think we can all agree (students, parents, teachers, administrators), that even having to "pivot" due to cases - meaning: quarantines, getting sent home after a positive result, getting assignments online to work on your own, regular testing, masks ... is all far preferable to zoom school.

dukemunson Aug 17, 2021 10:04 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

The district could have opened in September… they all spring and summer to use the millions they took to open. Unlike private schools and rich kid pub schools they chose not to…against all reason, logic and obvious long term effects that it would have on the kids.

Sure we can get past that… but the union the school district and all the people that supported the less than “150% effort” should be ashamed at what transpired.

Byzantium Aug 16, 2021 09:26 PM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Savvy Sacramento political reporter Dan Walters states the obvious about Newson's flip-flopping on school masks, closures and vaccinations: ....." From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s six million public school students have been used as pawns in political power struggles and abused by having their educations stunted.............

School unions were an impediment, demanding safety conditions that were impossible to achieve. Newsom was unwilling to confront union leaders, who are important political allies, so schools remained shuttered as students struggled to keep up with classes via the internet." ......

PitMix Aug 17, 2021 01:56 PM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Even if the dems don't turn out and the recall is approved, the village idiot they install as governor with a smaller percentage of the vote than Mayor Murillo won't be able to do much before we re-elect Newsom in 2022. Bring it on, Republicons!

PitMix Aug 18, 2021 08:41 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Duke, he still has the support of the Dems, even if we are too lazy to vote in a recall. What other Dem do you consider to be a viable candidate that can beat him? And why would a Dem take any advice from you. He's definitely better than any candidate on the recall list with the possible exception of Falconer. And re-electing him might make the recall promoters think twice the next time they want to overturn the results of a regular election.

dukemunson Aug 18, 2021 08:48 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Pit - does he really still have the support of the dems… really???? I get being ( and voting against the wasteful recall)… but seriously, if he gets recalled how the heck can you support electing him again???? Whoever the dems put forward in 2022 will win…we’ve seen what newsome is and will do… there are tons of better candidates on the left.

I know you have a thing for the status quo but seriously… California needs someone else in 2022. How do you not see and appreciate that? I see the recall circus as the opportunity to get a viable dem into office in 2022.

PitMix Aug 18, 2021 04:22 PM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Duke, the only thing that he has not fixed is the Unemployment debacle. But it is really hard to fix an underfunded department with cold war era computer systems in a short time.

If he is recalled, it will be irritated conservatives who are motivated to vote that do it, versus a bunch of lazy dems that didn't learn their lesson from the Trump debacle.

But if Elder is elected with a small plurality of the vote, I hope to not see any whining about Murillo or Rowse getting elected with a small plurality.

PitMix Aug 18, 2021 04:24 PM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Sac, VOR didn't like that Republicon remark. If he can suggest a better word to describe his party currently I will use it, because they do not support the republic and do not act to conserve anything except their wealth.

Voice of Reason Aug 18, 2021 05:21 PM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

You should look up the meaning of the word 'republic' as it goes against many of the comments you've regurgitated on EdHat. You're also incredibly naïve to not realize both parties are controlled by the oligarchs, they own both sides so they come out ahead no matter which party wins. Researching the amount of corporate and oligarch level donations on both sides should disgust the average American. You also shouldn't assume my party as I don't have one, though my beliefs of a small government that supports communities to do what's best for themselves, vs. a large government that wants to control and restrict communities in what they can do, usually align with the Republicans and we only get two choices to pick from.... (due to the corporations and oligarchs controlling both parties and preventing 3rd parties from becoming a real contender).

dukemunson Aug 18, 2021 05:50 PM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Pit - wait… what???!! I’ve obviously disagreed with you on many things, but wait, are you seriously saying that Newsome Has fixed every problem in California except the “unemployment debacle”????? What!!!!???? That’s the only problem remaining in california… newsome has “fixed” everything else???

I’m truly at a loss for words… that’s… I mean… whoa…

PitMix Aug 19, 2021 08:18 AM
SBUSD Chief is 150 Percent Committed to Keeping Schools Open

Duke,
He has fixed some things that were fixable. Kept the state going during a once in a lifetime crisis. Has not fixed things that are hard to fix, just like every other politician since human history started being recorded. Should have worked more on the EDD issue. So in my mind he has been an acceptable governor and has done nothing to be replaced by someone only a small minority of eligible voters will vote for.

Is that clear enough?

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