Santa Barbara school board
Members of the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education met this week — and kept 6 feet apart — to talk about ways that instruction could continue despite the closure and shelter-in-place order. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

School’s out, but not quite for summer.

Students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District won’t be able to return to campus until at least May 1 — and even that is optimistic thinking.

The Santa Barbara County Education Office closed schools on March 13 because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19/coronavirus. The closure sent thousands of students home, forcing families to find child care and parents to become at-home teachers.

All campuses are closed, and no students are permitted on the premises. The district’s administrators have spent the past week scrambling to figure out how to continue to educate students if they are not allowed to go to school.

“These are truly situations that I don’t think any of us could have ever imagined,” Superintendent Cary Matsuoka said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “How do we care for students when we actually don’t have them with us?”

The school board, following an order from Gov. Gavin Newsom to practice social distancing, met with only 10 people in the room. Three members of the board telecommuted, and only Dr. Jacqueline Reid and Rose Munoz were in live attendance.

The district has launched a Learning at Home web page to provide resources for K-12 students. The district also is partnering with Cox Communications to provide free WiFi temporarily to families who also qualify for free or reduced lunch. The district earlier this week sent out a survey to parents asking them whether they had WiFi in the home. The district also is serving daily meals at several of its campuses to students, many of whom eat all three meals a day that are provided by the district.

Food services staff served 4,900 lunches this week. 

“It was so unexpected for school to close and for parents who have already been struggling to make ends meet to have that support. I very much appreciate that,” Munoz said.

Parents are wondering when and if students will be able to return to school. Gov. Newsom floated the possibility earlier this week that school might be closed until the end of the school year, a reality that would leave thousands of families in desperate situations. 

“These are unprecedented times,” Matsuoka said. “We will do all that we can as your school district to support our community.”

The district put out a message Friday night through Parentsquare letting parents know about the Learning at Home web page and that “instructional leaders have developed detailed plans for supporting teachers and students with remote learning as we prepare for long-term school closure.”

“We will remain closed until state and local authorities determine when we can return, and we will provide updates as they become available,” Matsuoka said. 

He also told his staff in the message to “take a week of rest before we return to reinventing education as we know it.”

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