Across the country, we have seen the grim consequences that have befallen school districts that have too quickly transitioned back to on campus instruction during this COVID-19 pandemic. With the health of students, staff and the community at large in mind, the Lompoc Unified School District and Lompoc Federation of Teachers (LFT) agree it is better to operate with an abundance of caution moving forward than to put the health and well-being of the community at risk.

Although we are all anxious to return to the classroom and agree that in-person learning is best for kids, both the district and LFT agree the decision to move forward with the elementary waiver is ultimately not in the best interest of the community at this time.

This is not something either the district or LFT takes lightly, as we have heard from countless teachers, parents and students about the difficulties that come with distance learning. We hear and, more often than not, share these concerns.

However, as long as we are in the midst of this pandemic, our first priority is, and will continue to be, the health and safety of our students, staff and community.

“While we want to have our students back in our schools, the safety of LUSD staff and students is of paramount importance. The key is not only reopening schools, but keeping them open,” said Superintendent Trevor McDonald.

“Once the positive case numbers decline, we look forward to working with our labor partners and bringing students back on campus,” he said.

Make no mistake, LUSD wants to return to a traditional school setting. However, as much as we want that, we cannot ignore the reality that COVID-19 is still a very real threat to all within the Lompoc community, and as such, both LFT and the district agree the best course of action in protecting the community is to not pursue the waiver process at this time.

We — students, staff, and parents — are under stress and anxiety related to distance learning that have reached heights many of us have never before experienced. The district and LFT hear daily from staff and parents about how much harder distance learning is than in-person instruction, and would like to see students return to the classroom.

Again, it is important to understand that the whole reason a waiver is required to move to in-person instruction is due to the fact that Santa Barbara County remains on the state monitoring list because of the county’s high positivity rate.

We take very seriously the need to move toward the slow transition from 100% remote learning, to 1:1 assessments, to small cohorts, to hybrid learning, to traditional in-person learning.

To that end, we continue to meet regularly to navigate all the complexities of COVID-19, the waiver process, and reopening schools.

“As educators, our desire is to get everyone back in the classroom as soon as we can safely do so. However, the emphasis must be on health and safety,” said Skyler Petersen, LFT president. “We owe that to our students, our staff, and our community, and we applaud the district for exercising caution and looking out for the well-being of all stakeholders involved,”

Our mantra has been “Go slow, work together, do it right.” If we are to err in our judgment, the district and LFT share the belief that it is much better to seem overly cautious than to move too quickly and compromise the health — and potentially lives — of our students, staff and community members.

Behind every student and staff member is a family whose health would also be put at risk if we get this wrong. This disease has demonstrated how pervasive and destructive it is as it has exponentially spread nationwide in communities, including our own, over the past six months.

“We recognize that in-person learning is ideal, and we will continue to work with our staff to identify how we can make this happen, while protecting both students and staff from possible infections,” said Bree Valla, deputy superintendent.

The district and LFT will continue to work together toward the goal of a safe return to the classroom, for students and staff alike, and will work together to communicate regularly where we are in that process.

We understand the frustrations many have shared regarding this process, but please know that every decision we make is made with the health and well-being of our community in mind.