After navigating months of distance learning due to COVID-19, local public school districts will look to the state as officials consider options for the 2020-21 school year that include continued distance learning, resuming in-person classes or a blend of the two.

Much of the state's guidance is contained in Assembly Bill 77, a trailer bill to the 2020-21 budget approved Friday. 

The bill encourages schools and districts to "offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible," while also outlining methods for offering partial or complete distance learning. 

Santa Barbara County's Catholic schools, on the other hand, have been permitted to resume in-person classes in the fall by the Los Angeles Archdiocese as of June 15, with expectations set for social distancing, temperature checks and other protocols. 

Here are the most recent updates from local schools and districts: 

St. Joseph High School 

Erinn Dougherty, principal at St. Joseph High School in Orcutt, said although students will be expected to return to school on Aug. 17, those who feel safer learning from home will be permitted to access classes via Zoom. 

On campus, desks equipped with sneeze guards will be separated to safely accommodate a maximum of 20 students per classroom, Dougherty said, with students required to complete daily temperature checks and wear masks if social distancing is not possible. 

"It’s a huge undertaking. It'll be another three to four weeks before we complete all of our paperwork. But this is a situation where you can’t overplan," she said. 

Santa Maria-Bonita School District 

On Wednesday, parents were invited to watch a meeting of the Santa-Maria Bonita School District school board over Zoom, where administrators discussed potential solutions for the return to school on Aug. 13. 

According to district spokeswoman Maggie White, the district is trying to create a model for the school year that will be adaptable to potential changes from the state, with three options outlined at Wednesday's meeting.

"The board members and district staff are aware that the guidance from federal, state and county governments is likely to change. The district will continue to modify its work as needed to provide the best education possible in the healthiest environment possible," White said. 

The district's options include continued distance learning, resuming in-person classes with social distancing, which would require an increase in bus services to transport students in smaller groups, and a "blended model," in which students are broken into two groups that switch off every week between distance learning and on-campus learning, she said.

The district includes 16 elementary schools and four junior high schools.

Santa Maria Joint-Union High School District 

To assist in planning for the school year, the Santa Maria Joint-Union High School District sent out a survey last week to the families of the approximately 8,900 district students between Santa Maria, Delta, Pioneer Valley and Ernest Righetti high schools. 

Results from the survey are expected next week, with the school crafting a potential reopening plan in the meantime, district spokesman Kenny Klein said. 

In the survey, families are asked about their own needs moving forward, whether they would send their student back to school for in-person classes, and their preferences for other distance and blended learning options. 

Guadalupe Union School District

The Guadalupe Union School District, which includes Mary Buren Elementary and Kermit McKenzie Intermediate schools, also is formulating a plan integrating feedback from a survey sent to district parents, said Klein, also a spokesperson for Guadalupe Union. 

A group of volunteer staff including administrators, nurses and classified staff are creating the reopening plan, according to Klein.

"From that group, the district will present models of what GUSD is considering to use in the fall at the next board meeting in July," he said. 

Orcutt Union School District 

In the Orcutt Union School District, Assistant Superintendent for Education Services and soon-to-be Superintendent Dr. Holly Edds said the school is still planning out initial concepts.

"We’re taking every bit of information that we can, and looking for various models and ideas," Edds said. "Until we get that language from the state, we can't even formalize any of that."

The district includes Alice Shaw, Ralph Dunlap, Joe Nightingale, Pine Grove, Patterson and Olga Reed elementary schools, Lakeview and Orcutt junior high schools, Orcutt Academy Charter School and Orcutt Academy High School. 

Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.


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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