Under the district’s proposed hybrid model, students would return to in-person instruction two days a week, in cohorts of up to 12 students. The district isn’t sure of when to roll out the hybrid. They talked about as early as Nov. 30, but most board members seemed to prefer January, after Winter Break, with either a hybrid or a five-day-a-week schedule, depending on the case count at that time, and several logistical matters.
Under the hybrid plan, the buses would take students to school only at half-capacity. Students would go to school for two full days, from 8:15 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. The remaining three days would be under an asynchronous plan, so students would not meet with a teacher through Zoom. Currently, students meet virtually with their teachers every day.
While some parents are pushing the district to return to a five-day-a-week, in-person model, a new problem arose Wednesday night: getting students to school on buses.
Pre-COVID-19, the district bused as many as 400 students a day to school, but with social distancing rules, the district is struggling with how to put that many kids on the bus five days a week.
“There’s just no way you could have a child 6 feet away from another,” said Conrad Tedeschi, the fiscal services manager for the district. “There are logistical pieces to that that really make it challenging.”
But, he added, “if we don’t provide buses, some of these kids won’t come to school.”
“This limitation is the reason we are not able to move back toward a five-day model at this time,” Tedeschi said.
The bus perplexity is one of the reasons the district can go only to a two-day/three-day hybrid model.
“I feel that loading at 50 percent is a very aggressive approach,” Superintendent Donna Lewis said. “Loading at half-capacity with the community spread is about as comfortable, as your superintendent, I feel comfortable doing.”
The district could hire more bus drivers, but if they are not licensed, it could take as long as four months. Even for drivers with a license, it would take a month.
Tedeschi said the district reached out to the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District for help with buses to drive students to school, but MTD declined because “they are not able to operate as a school bus.”
Board member Luz Reyes-Martin said she supported going back when Santa Barbara County reaches the orange tier under the state’s color-coded system. She pushed to reopen in two weeks, and if not, to go hard for a return in January at five days a week.
“At the end of the day, we are not going to be able to satisfy the needs of every family,” Reyes-Martin said. “I think this model is a good transitional step to that five-day model.”
But other board members disgreed with having students jump from the Zoom classes that they experience right now — and have settled into — into a hybrid plan through which they see their teachers only two days a week instead of five.
“It is just not going to work for so many families,” Dr. Carin Ezal, a board member, said. “One or two long days is just not equivalent to that amount of time spread out over the week. Without that regular short chunk of interaction, the kids that are struggling with asynchronous are going to have more difficulty than they are having with the asynchronous right now.”
She also said that teachers need to have input on the plan that the district proposed Wednesday night.
“Teachers are living this every day,” Ezal said. “They know what the students are responding to.”
She added that no solution is easy, but asking teachers to shift from Zoom five days a week, to a hybrid in November, to a five-days-a-week model in January would push some teachers over the edge.
“We all just wish we could get rid of the pandemic,” Ezal said. “It’s going to be a huge pivot if we ask them to do a hybrid plan and then in January we are going to go to five days.”
The board is set to vote at its next meeting in two weeks, and presumably, Santa Barbara County would have moved to the orange tier by then. However, Lewis said it would take at least two weeks after that before classes in the hybrid model could resume.
“It almost doesn’t seem like it is worth trying to do something before January,” board member Dr. Richard Mayer said.
Board president Sholeh Jahangir said she is open to another survey of teachers and families based on the latest plan, but that it is time to take concrete action after that.
“There’s no one plan that is going to make us all happy,” Jahangir said.
The board was still discussing the matter Wednesday night but was not scheduled to vote.