Student learning models adopted by Santa Ynez Valley and Lompoc Valley public school districts will remain largely unchanged in response to a regional stay-at-home order triggered by the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases.

Schools within the Lompoc Unified School District will continue observing 100% distance-learning into the new semester, according to Superintendent of Schools Trevor McDonald.

McDonald said that the district is prepared to reopen campuses when the region is no longer under a stay-at-home order and when the school board determines it is time to do so.

Staff and families will be issued a two-week notice informing them of any changes being made to the current learning model, allowing students and teachers ample time to prepare, he said.

“We are hopeful that as case numbers decline we can return to hybrid or full in-person soon,” McDonald said.

Lompoc resident and mother of two, Arianna Boarina, whose eldest daughter Sophia Walters, 8, attends Los Berros Elementary in Lompoc, supports the district's approach.

"I do agree with the district to keep distance learning as the current solution to the [threat of] virus, because I do understand it would be more damaging to children to send them to school only to send them back home," Boarina said, referencing other learning facilities that have had to close in response to individual cases of COVID-19 on campus. "I feel it would create emotional disappointment to just send them back home again."

Superintendent Trevor McDonald described Karbula as a great team player who has worked for the betterment of all students and, especially, the most vulnerable populations. "He is a man of great integrity and has added to the pragmatic and positive work environment for all Lompoc Unified staff members,” McDonald said.

Despite the change in pace, Boarina said her third grader continues to make steady progress in her studies due in large part to a more focused online classroom environment mostly absent of the distraction of other children. 

And unlike some parents calling for schools to send children back, Boarina said she believes it is in the best interest of the child for the district to first figure out a long-term plan to manage the ongoing pandemic.

"I think kids should go back to school instead of distance learning, but until the district has a better idea of how to handle this situation, distance learning will work," she said. "The virus isn't going away."

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With similar plans to stay the course, Solvang School District Superintendent Steve Seaford said given the overall success of the school's hybrid learning model, both upper and lower campuses would maintain the same learning format into the spring semester.

Three student cohorts now comprise the district's hybrid model, one of which conducts learning strictly online, and two which alternate campus-based instruction.

"Keeping our campus open has required a team effort," Seaford said. "Families and staff have been vigilant about staying home when sick and quarantining when necessary."

Seaford noted that despite the less-than optimal challenges brought on by the health crisis, both teachers and students have turned those same challenges into opportunities.

Classrooms are now outfitted with 75-inch computer-based interactive monitors, cameras and other technological equipment to facilitate interactive instruction.

"Less than a year ago, who would have thought that we'd be livestreaming classes, where regardless of a student's location, one can connect with an exemplary teacher," Seaford said. "Technology skills among staff and students have significantly expanded. With continued cooperation from all involved, we're hopeful that our campus will be open for the entire school year."

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Principal Michele Borges echoed similar sentiments in a Dec. 15 letter to parents providing a snapshot of the upcoming 2021 spring semester.

Borges said the school would continue a hybrid learning model into the new semester, but would offer those students currently enrolled in distance-learning (DL) models only, to select in-person (IP) learning at their own discretion.

She said parents would be receiving a survey after the holiday break which will offer students the opportunity to update the learning model selection, and requested that in-person opt-ins be submitted between Monday, Jan. 4 and Friday, Jan. 15, in time for the new learning format to begin on Jan. 19.

The letter also urged students to continue distance learning into January should they travel outside of the country, gather with family, friends or groups outside of their households, or come in contact with anyone with symptoms of or who tested positive for COVID-19 during the holiday break.

Lisa André covers lifestyle and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record.