By Raiza Giorgi

The Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Board of Education decided to move forward with preparing with splitting the students into two groups, alternating days on campus two days a week in order to comply with social distancing guidelines. 

“Our hope is that we will be at Stage 4 with all kids on campus before August, but we have to have a plan in case that cannot happen,” Superintendent Scott Cory said. 

In order for the campus to even reopen, the board had to come up with a plan that allowed for social distancing. 

The plan in the board packet proposed a schedule outline where students would be divided into groups and then given a day for 100-minute block classes, but were staggered so one group would only be on campus once in eight days. 

Cory said when newly hired Principal Michele Borgess looked at it, she offered an alternative simplified plan, and Cory said the faculty association was looking it over as well. Borgess’ proposed plan is to have staff development on Mondays and then split the students into two groups and alternate two days a week on campus. 

Board member Dr. John Baeke said he is opposed limiting students to two days a week and said the kids are responsible enough to make good decisions about keeping socially distanced in the hallways.

“We are not making use of three of the greatest assets our district owns, the new gymnasium, old gymnasium and Little Theater,” Baeke said. “We could easily with our grant monies be purchasing temporary, soundproof walls and place them strategically in the gymnasiums, and have large class simultaneously taught with portable chalkboards or dry erase boards. I doubt our drama is utilizing the theater every hour of every day, and there an opportunity to classes meet there five days a week.”

The high school’s nurse, Miranda Burford, said she wasn’t in favor of having all kids on campus because it isn’t the issue of the kids in the classroom, it’s the transfer between classes that is most concerning. 

“When everyone is on campus having 900 students in the hallway can easily spread,” she said. “Every student has to have their temperature checked and screened before coming onto campus.” 

Burford added one asymptomatic can infect a large amount of people in a day as they pass each other back and forth, and half the campus could be infected and infect more after the students go home to family members. 

“One of the big things I want to make aware of is our numbers are going up,” she said. 

Santa Barbara County Public Health has seen an increase in positivity numbers as its testing is now more widely available. As of June 24, there have been 2,590 positive cases with 2,057 fully recovered. Additionally, there have been 27 deaths associated with COVID-19. In the Santa Ynez Valley, there have been 17 positive cases, with 12 fully recovered. 

Cory said there are more issues than just the students walking between classes to take into account, such as transportation and staff concerns. 

He also added that he was just made aware of a sudden reversal by the California Department of Public Health, which has removed language from its guidance that was widely interpreted as exempting schools from a mandate requiring the use of masks. As a result of this change, the new consensus is that students, with some limited exceptions, and staff must wear masks, or face shields, while in school facilities.

“We know this isn’t ideal, and our goal is to have kids on campus all days because as I’ve said before the economy isn’t fully open until schools are fully open. We have to have some sort of plan,” Cory said. 

The board directed Cory to pursue one of the two options with the faculty association and there would have to be a special meeting called in July to get board approval. There was also a new position created to help with students that are not able or willing to come back due to COVID-19. The Teacher on Special Assignment position will create, develop, implement and oversee an Independent Study program for the district in order to retain students that would not attend school otherwise due to health and safety concerns. 

“Typically, we take a year to create the program, but we don’t have the luxury of that in this case,” Cory said. “If we don’t offer something for Independent Study, we risk losing those students to other options.” 

There are also several new teachers that are being hired, including two social studies teachers, an automotive shop teacher, a guidance counselor, a health science teacher and a health and wellness coordinator. 

“We got some top-notch people and will have some great things happening in the classrooms as a result of this,” Cory said. 

The budget for the school remains fluid as well because of unknowns like exact property tax payments, which the school is being conservative in estimating at a 2.5 percent increase, but are projecting closer to 4 percent. The budget also took into account a reduction in state and federal funding of 10 percent per Gov. Gavin Newsome’s most recent budget proposal, said Business Office Manager Elysia Lewis. 

“Despite that, we are looking as the budget showing that the district is able to meet its minimum state required reserve levels for all three years and is therefore positively certified,” Lewis explained. 

The 2020-21 budget shows revenues and other financing sources at $13.22 million and expenditures at $13.53 million, which is a deficit of $312,560, but projecting for two years out shows a surplus of $40,347 in 2021-22, and $115,059 in 2022-23, conservatively. 

“These figures are subject to change given that even though we are in a tough economic position, the real estate sector is still healthy and strong which is a good place to be in,” Cory said. 

The full meeting can be viewed online at and the packet can be viewed at