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Parents and students from the Orcutt Union School District rally with signs to open schools on Oct. 21, 2020, at the corner of Clark Avenue and Bradley Road.

The Orcutt Union School District Board of Trustees will convene for a special meeting Monday to finalize an in-person learning return date for K-6 students, as Santa Barbara County draws closer to meeting new state guidelines for elementary school reopening.

While the board previously voted to launch hybrid learning once Santa Barbara County's case rate dropped to 7 per 100,000 people, triggering the red tier, the state's most recent guidelines allow elementary grades to resume in-person learning once the county's case rate reaches 25.

Now, as the county grows closer to the new threshold, with a rate of 27 cases per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, Orcutt Union School District has been scrambling to complete its COVID-19 safety plans to submit for county Public Health Department approval.

"That case rate has been declining over the past couple of weeks and is headed in the right direction, which is fantastic not just for reopening schools but, also, for the health of our community," Superintendent Dr. Holly Edds said last week.

If plans are approved, students may return after the county has maintained a case rate of 25 or below for five consecutive days, according to state guidelines.  

Seven schools within the K-8 district would be permitted to bring back elementary students for partial in-person learning. Grades 7-12 are still required to remain in distance learning until the county reaches the red tier. 

In the district's plans, the district will limit classrooms to cohorts of 16 students plus one teacher, with no mixing between cohorts. Masks will be required for all on-site students and staff, along with bi-weekly COVID-19 testing.  

District parents who have been vocal about the district's need to reopen are planning to rally outside the district office during the Monday meeting. 

Many have expressed frustration with the district's decision not to reopen when the county was still in the red tier during the fall. At the time, board members cited concerns about liability and still-high COVID-19 rates.

The Orcutt Union School District's special board meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Monday, with a link to a livestream of the meeting available in the online agenda. The board also will hold a special meeting focused on school curriculum at 6 p.m. Wednesday. 

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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