The Santa Barbara Unified School District has targeted three dates for a potential full reopening of campuses, but everything depends on COVID-19 case levels over the coming weeks and months.

On the table for consideration are Nov. 2, Nov. 30 and Jan. 19. The latter appears the most likely scenario, in light of the unpredictable COVID-19 positive test rates, and the testing requirements for schools to reopen.

The board of education discussed returning students to the classroom during Tuesday night’s board meeting, and will “recalibrate” every Tuesday.

The decisions aren’t easy, however. Superintendent Hilda Maldonado said she must consider staffing, families’ preferences, facilities and the budget for safety precautions before making a firm recommendation on when to open schools for everybody.

For now, the district will begin next week with smaller cohorts of students — groups of 14 or fewer — who will return to on-campus instruction. The district is allowing in-class instruction for students with moderate and severe disabilities; homeless and housing insecure; students with mild and moderate disabilities; emergent multilingual; homeless, but housed and foster children/youths; students without connectivity issues; credit-deficient seniors; and students failing core courses, such as English, math, social studies and science.

“The small cohorts help us practice,” Wageneck said. “It’s like the soft opening of a business — not that we are practicing on the students and the staff, but rather, we could really make sure that we are doing things correctly and keeping the students safe.”

For the rest of the district’s 13,000 students, Maldonado said the decision to return gets more complex.

“We need to consider spreader events like the upcoming Veterans Day holiday, and of course the Thanksgiving week, which as I am learning about the Santa Barbara community and observing what happens during holidays, we are a city that receives many visitors during holidays,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado said that the district’s No. 1 priority is to allow students and teachers to return safely to school, without risking anyone’s life in the process.

“As a superintendent, I am approaching the decision from the perspective of seeing what the virus is doing in the community, but I am also looking at the feasibility of the resources that we have,” Maldonado said.

According to the latest survey data, 50 percent of the parents who responded to the survey did not want to return to in-person classes.

“It’s a 50-50 split between families,” Maldonado said. “For every email I get saying, ‘Let’s open schools,’ I get an email that says, ‘Please don’t open schools yet.’”

Board president Laura Capps continued to push her support for outdoor learning as part of the strategy to reopen schools.

The district has purchased small tents that are available now and larget tents that will arrive in October.

“Imagination can work here and utilize these spaces in creative ways,” Capps said. “I am excited for that.”

She also noted that although it’s not a full in-person return, that next week marks a significant step. 

“This is go-time,” Capps said. “We are bringing students and teachers back into the classroom.”

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