Fifteen schools had applied for COVID-19 reopening waivers as of Tuesday, and the Santa Barbara County Public Health review team expects to forward 10 of them to the state this week, according to Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer.
California is requiring remote learning for schools in counties, such as Santa Barbara, with widespread novel coronavirus transmission, except for K-6 schools, which can be granted a waiver.
The application process requires schools to create plans for small groups of students, social distancing on campus, and regular staff testing.
Ansorg said the local team reviewing applications includes an epidemiologist, pediatrician, himself, and Public Health Officer Van Do-Reynoso.
Any applications that pass their scrutiny are forwarded to the California Public Health Department for a final decision.
As of Tuesday, the 15 schools that applied for reopening waivers include two public schools, the Cold Spring School District and the Montecito Union School District, and 13 private schools:
» Coastline Christian Academy in Goleta
» The Howard School in Carpinteria
» Knox School of Santa Barbara
» Laguna Blanca (Lower School)
» Marymount School in Santa Barbara
» Pacific Christian Elementary School in Santa Maria
» Providence School in Santa Barbara
» Santa Ynez Valley Christian Academy
» Santa Ynez Valley Family School
» Valley Christian Academy in Santa Maria
» The Waldorf School of Santa Barbara
In addition to the list of schools reported by the county, representatives from the Montessori Center School in Goleta and Crane Country Day School in Montecito told Noozhawk Tuesday that they each submitted applications and got confirmation they were received by the Public Health Department.
Santa Barbara County listed Anthem Chapel, in Goleta, on its list of schools Tuesday, but a representative said the church does not have a school. The Chapel did submit an endorsement letter for Providence School’s application, according to Elaine Rottman from Providence, which could have caused the mix-up.
“We understand that smaller schools have it easier to go through this application process,” Ansorg said, noting that districts are required to consult with teachers, labor groups, and parent organizations before submitting their applications.
State and county regulations require all school staff members to be tested for the novel coronavirus every two months, and that could be another obstacle for larger districts.
“We understand that can be a logistical nightmare and we are totally posed to assist as much as we can,” Ansorg told Noozhawk last week.
The county’s Public Health Department lab doesn’t have capacity to run all tests needed for schools, Ansorg noted, but the three county health care center clinics offering testing (in Santa Maria, Lompoc and Santa Barbara) would reserve two hours a day for teachers.
School staff would also have access to the three state-run community testing sites (in Santa Maria, Buellton and Goleta), which offer free tests by appointment.
The requirement of testing all school staff every two months could be increased at a school or district with an outbreak, or an area with multiple outbreaks, Ansorg noted.
Some schools have already signed contracts with private labs for testing.
Cold Spring School, one of the two public schools to apply, which has a deal with Merso Labs to swab school staff in the campus parking lot once a month, and process the results at the local lab.
The trend of smaller, mostly private schools applying for these reopening waivers is seen all over the region.
San Luis Obispo County has already granted reopening waivers to eight small, private schools, which had enrollment ranging from 20 to 150 students, The San Luis Obispo Tribune reported.
In Ventura County, only private schools had applied for waivers as of Monday, and two were approved, the Ventura County Star reported.
All K-12 schools would be allowed to reopen for in-person learning if Santa Barbara County advances to a less-restrictive state “tier” by lowering the rate of new novel coronavirus cases and test positivity.
— Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.