Santa Barbara school board
Members of the Santa Barbara school board meet Tuesday night to discuss COVID-19 cases and the plan for reopening campuses to in-person learning.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 97 people — 20 students and 77 staff members — on Santa Barbara Unified School District campuses or in district offices had contracted COVID-19.

“Since we have returned on Jan. 4 from winter break, we have had 62 cases at school sites or district offices,” Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck said. “Two-thirds of the cases have come in the past three weeks.”

Wageneck said 55 staff members and students are currently being quarantined. 

She also said that the 97 total does not reflect the true number of COVID-19 cases among staff members and students.

“We know that those numbers are much higher,” Wageneck said. “These are just the folks coming on to campus on a regular basis.”

The district has about 1,395 students who regularly go to campuses as part of small cohorts, another 982 in athletics and 395 staff members.

The spike in COVID-19 cases comes at a time when the district says it is ready to reopen and plans to submit a safety plan.

Currently, the district cannot open to in-person learning because the number of COVID-19 cases is still too high. The adjusted COVID-19 case rate is 49.5 per 100,000 people, and in order for schools to reopen, the case rate must drop to 25 per 100,000 people. Overall, however, the case count is dropping countywide, more than a month out from the holiday travel in December.

“It feels like we are making progress, little by little here,” Wageneck said.

She said the district will open schools for in-person learning for some students as soon as it can.

“We are ready,” Wageneck said. “And when we get to that point of 25 cases per 100,000 people or lower, we will open our elementary schools in hybrid. We are ready to do it today.”

One complication, however, could be testing.

John Becchio, the district’s human resources director, said it will cost about $3.5 million to test 3,300 elementary students and staff for about four months. It’s unclear exactly how that would play out. The state is supposed to give the district $4.7 million for testing kits.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to reopen schools to in-person learning calls for testing of students and staff.

“Student testing is a pretty hot topic right now across the state,” Becchio said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions still, and I think superintendents across the state are trying to make sense of what student testing would look like, how to implement it, what the cost is going to be.”

Becchio said staffing and time are big variables that “we are very concerned about it. It is unclear who will get the test kits, deliver the test kits and retrieve the test kits.”

“We’re concerned about instructional time and where in the day that is going to take place,” Becchio said.

Board president Kate Ford is optimistic about students returning to school soon.

“For the first time in a while, I feel certain that we are all on the same team,” Ford said. “The COVID-19 infection rates are on the decline, meaning that everyone is working to be safe. And, the district is 100% ready, willing, and able to re-open schools in person. I’m energized and determined. We must get students back on our safe, secure campuses.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at