By Raiza Giorgi


Even if Santa Barbara County stays in the Red Tier until October 13, which would allow all county schools to reopen to a hybrid model without a waiver, the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Board of Education opted to keep the distance learning model until second semester which is January 4, 2021. The board voted 3 – 2 at their special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 29, to stay in distance learning with board members John Baeke and Chris Burtness dissenting. 

“This is a very difficult decision for all of us and strong feelings. We are fully responsible for whatever decision we make,” said Eileen Preston, board president. 

“The community and the students will be outraged,” said Baeke. 

If the hybrid model were implemented, teachers would have one cohort on campus, one cohort distance learning from home, and another cohort solely learning from home. 

During public comment before the decision there were 12 speakers, 10 of those who sent in statements to be read, and were mostly in favor of going to a hybrid model. 

“As a nurse at Cottage Hospital I am aware of the need to move forward when opportunity presents itself. It’s time to get children back to school and we appreciated all efforts for distance learning but in no way does it compare to in person learning. The kids are suffering from anxiety and they will adapt to new ways of learning and kids will make whatever modification for some sense of normalcy in their lives,” said Lisa Gildred. 

A student echoed her statement saying they dread the next school day of online classes and have no connection with their teacher or classmates. 

Other students said they preferred the distance learning and it allows them independence to get assignments done on their own and not have to sit in a classroom all day. 

“Going back to school will take us off track of how students adjusted to learning this year. We should stay online as we have figured out time management and routines,” said Presley Melville, SYHS junior. 

“Are we pretending that all of our high school age students are sitting at home on the weekends? Actually, a lot of them are working – and have been working the past six months – in all of the types places that hire teenagers and these places are busy with tourists and locals and people of all ages who are out and about doing stuff. But it’s not safe for them to be in the classroom five days week when we move to the red tier,” wrote Tonya Crandall, parent. 

Two SYHS teachers said that on top of their already difficult task of distance learning, bringing in a hybrid model will be a further detriment to education this year. 

“Students will only see their teacher one day and will not feel benefit of face to face instruction. This will exacerbate learning gaps and feelings of isolation. I worry about student mental health feeling more ignored and lack normal social interactions because of strict social distancing guidelines,” said Cassie Cathcart, English teacher. 

Teacher Heather Clemente said the district is unprepared to do a hybrid model as she implied there haven’t been clear guidelines and protocols set. 

“Teaching simultaneously in person and online will make impossible to provide an effective education, please delay until second semester,” Clemente said. 

When the discussion was brought back to the board Burtness said that no matter when the hybrid model is implemented it will take time to get through the “clunks”, and the sooner the teachers start figuring out those issues the better. 

“Delaying to second semester won’t get rid of issues. We are a public school, funded by the community, and our duty is to get the kids back to the classroom as soon as possible,” Burtness said. 

Superintendent Scott Cory said that the last survey sent to to parents and students indicated 80 percent of them wanted to come back to campus. 

“We were planning and getting ready for the hybrid instruction in late June and July when three weeks before school was to start, we were told it was completely distance learning so we had to switch gears and get that model up and running. There are so many conversations that were put on hold, such as negotiations with the teachers union down to figuring out the cleaning schedule. We need to reboot all those conversations and get a solid plan,” said Cory the day after the meeting. 

Cory added it takes time to implement all these various aspects of the high school day, from minute details such as figuring out how kids will move about on campus from various entrances and exits to maintain social distancing. 

“The county gave us two weeks to completely switch gears again. This isn’t like elementary school where you can keep students in the same cohort together which is easier to trace if one of the students or teachers shows symptoms. Students at the high school take a variety of classes with different teachers and other grade levels so tracing becomes more difficult. I have no doubt we can figure this out, but it will take time,” Cory said. 

Burtness said she wanted the school to open as quickly as possible put forward a motion to open right after October 13, as long as all the public health guidelines are being met and Baeke seconded. The board discussed what the scenario would look like if they opened just after October 13 and board members Jan Clevenger and Tory Babcock said they didn’t think there was enough time for teachers to plan for it, to which Burtness suggested November 9. However her amended motion failed because Baeke did not second the amendment and none of the other board members did either. Clevenger and Babcock then said they were concerned about not having a solid plan for how teachers are supposed to teach three cohorts at the same time. 

“I am very worried about making sure education is strong in classroom, especially if teachers go out sick, subs will have to juggle three cohorts which they aren’t trained for. If we wait until this whole semester done and then we can move forward clean into next semester. I agree with what you say Chris (Burtness) in getting back to class, but I vote we reopen second semester,” Babcock said. 

Cory did clarify the board can change their mind and open sooner by either calling another special meeting or putting it on a future agenda and voting again. 

To watch the entire meeting visit the district’s YouTube channel.