Tuesday marked an important, positive milestone for Santa Barbara County.

Through our community’s collective efforts, we have moved from the purple tier to the red tier as identified by California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

This change will loosen some COVID-19 restrictions for specific industry sectors, and once our county remains in the red tier for two additional weeks, it will mean that all schools will have the opportunity to reopen to in-person instruction.

Moving into the red tier means we are one step closer to having all students and staff back together in classrooms. We look forward to being able to address, in-person, critical needs for students and families, support the mental health of students and staff, and provide rich teaching, learning and socialization for our youth.

Some Santa Barbara County schools have already reopened while in the purple tier through the California Department of Public Health’s elementary school waiver process for transitional kindergarten through sixth grade.

Other school districts have been approved to serve limited student groups in small cohorts. Still, other districts have announced or are considering plans for a later reopening toward the end of this calendar year, at the semester break, or when the county moves into the subsequent orange tier.

With health and safety as our top priority, each of our county’s 20 school districts, charter schools, and Santa Barbara County Education Office-operated schools and programs will continue to gather input and plan for reopening in accordance with guidance from the state and local health departments.

Districts and schools may move at different paces as their governing boards carefully consider local factors, including regional COVID-19 data, the size and grade levels of the student body, the ability to physically distance within facilities, transportation, and the health and safety of students and staff.

It is important that we learn from schools that have already opened, and move toward in-person schooling with optimism, careful planning and deliberate focus on the details that impact the health and safety of the youth, families, employees and community members throughout our county.

Our whole community contributed to the recent improvements in our county’s data, which inspire feelings of hope, optimism and accomplishment. As good as it feels to celebrate this success, let’s do our part to keep us from falling back into a more restrictive tier, and to move us to the next one.

We need to maintain our focus on frequent handwashing, wearing our face coverings and maintaining physical distancing.

Santa Barbara County has shown tremendous perseverance and resilience in the face of numerous changes and challenges. We have proven time and time again that together, as partners, we can overcome what can feel overwhelming.

As we enter into this next tier, let’s acknowledge our positive steps forward while remaining committed to doing all we can to further our progress toward a safe reopening throughout Santa Barbara County.

— Susan Salcido is the Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are her own.

— Susan Salcido is the Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are her own.