Hoping to be Back in Class

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   September 3, 2020
Teachers at Cold Spring School show off their socially-distanced classroom setting; students are expected to return to class later this month

As local students settle into virtual or distance learning, school administrators and teachers are working hard to reopen campuses, working within the guidelines set forth by the State of California and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. Last Friday, August 28, both Cold Spring School and Montecito Union School superintendents submitted applications for a waiver to be able to send their students back to class on campus.

Superintendents Dr. Anthony Ranii (MUS) and Dr. Amy Alzina (CSS) surveyed their teachers and parents about re-entry onto campus; 91% of parents at MUS and 87% at CSS voiced their desire to send their kids back to class.

The process of reopening is complex to say the least, with both superintendents considering numerous issues including how to keep kids and staff safe, safety, and cleaning protocols, building outdoor learning spaces, masks, contract tracing, infection protocols, and more.

At MUS, mandatory COVID-19 testing is taking place on September 8; tests will be optional for students and their parents. Dr. Ranii said the results of the testing will inform the timeframe in which to reopen, which would be September 14 at the earliest. “Even if the waiver gets approved, the school is not compelled to reopen. While it’s looking more and more like we are going forward, there are a lot of factors at play,” he said, adding that it could be several more weeks or months before students are back in class. A special yet-to-be-scheduled board meeting will be held before any final decisions are made.

In preparation for reopening, each of the 26 classrooms will have dedicated outdoor space, and kids will be taught in cohorts to minimize exposure to each other and to teachers. The same cohorts will recess and eat lunch together. Campus staff is busy building outdoor learning areas, adding shade, plexiglass, handwashing stations, and more. The campus will also utilize the vacant land next door to the main campus. All students and staff will be required to be in face coverings at all times with the exception of strenuous physical activity, respiratory issues, or while eating lunch; even students from kindergarten to 2nd grade, which is more stringent than State regulations.

MUS staffers hold a meeting outside in preparation of students returning to campus

Specialist activities, like art and music, will be handled creatively, as an effort is being made to minimize the exposure to specialist teachers, who would potentially be exposed to multiple cohorts, therefore hundreds of students. “We also need to adjust activities. For example, our music program weighs heavily on singing. It’s no longer safe to have kids singing next to each other, so we are having to be creative with instruments that don’t spread droplets,” Dr. Ranii explained.

For the 40 students whose parents have voiced their opinion not to send their kids back to campus, there will be a virtual learning or independent study program available, the details of which still need to be worked out. “We are looking to see how much staffing we can dedicate to the MUS-At-Home piece,” Ranii said, adding that the school is currently utilizing 26 classes instead of the necessary 21, in order to keep class sizes down to 12-16 students.

Things are similar at Cold Spring School, where 13% of students (24 kids) have opted to continue with at-home learning. Those kids, according to Dr. Alzina, will be offered a customized, modified learning plan with teacher support from Zoom. Kids who opt to go back to class will be required to wear masks, with the exception of students with special needs and those with health concerns. “We will also give opportunities for students to take their masks off while outside, six feet apart. It’s hard for these kids to keep masks on all the time! We need to build in some breaks,” she said. Teachers will be given COVID-19 tests on September 10, and parents, students, and members of the community are welcome to be tested on the same day, between 3-5 pm; the test cost is $125. Testing will continue the second Thursday of each month.

Kids on campus will do a combination of indoor/outdoor learning, with social distancing measures in place. Work has begun on outdoor classroom areas, including the retrofitting of the school’s gazebo, making it suitable for an outdoor classroom. The school intends on tentatively opening on September 22, but if there are multiple positive tests, that date will be pushed back. The campus will welcome parents to help put the finishing touches on the outdoor classroom spaces on Saturday, September 19. “We want parents to feel like they are part of this process as much as possible,” Alzina said.

Cold Spring and MUS will both adhere to State and local guidelines on contract tracing and quarantining if a case arises on campus.

“I’m very proud of the conversations we’ve been having on campus. Even when people have disagreed, the disagreements have been thoughtful and respectful,” Ranii said. “It has stayed really high level, and I’m really proud of that.”

For more information, visit www.montecitou.org and www.coldspringschool.net.


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