Please excuse the length of this email, but it is a busy time for Montecito Union School, and I think all of this information is important.
As you know, Santa Barbara County is on the watch list and as a result Montecito Union School may not open in-person classes at this time. Fortunately, we have been planning for multiple scenarios for months, and are ready to meet the challenge.
The following Monday-Friday schedule was created in collaboration with MUS teachers. We have made several key enhancements to our previous schedules for distance learning, which we refer to as MUSatHome. The new MUSatHome is designed to more fully meet each student's individual needs.
This schedule is a lot to take in, especially for those of you that are new to MUS. We have created a comprehensive video to explain the schedule and the overall approach to distance learning. That video is below:
Every K-2nd grade student will be issued an I-Pad and every 3rd-6th grade student will be issued an Apple laptop in order to access MUSatHome. Details for this distribution will be sent soon, and will likely take place on August 17 and 18. If your family does not have wireless Internet access at home, please contact me soon so we can work to support you.
MUSatHome instruction relies heavily on Zoom. If your child is not yet familiar with this platform, you might want to use the free version (see https://zoom.us/pricing) with friends and family to acclimate your child to this digital environment. We have created an internal website that will capture each class's schedule. This website has user-friendly buttons for students to access their various classes. Teachers will be able to work from their classrooms if they choose, and as the video makes clear we will be able to distribute and collect materials each Friday.
If after watching the video you have any questions, please consider joining me on Thursday, July 30 from 11:00am-12:30pm. The Zoom details are below:
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 974 5655 0284
As the video makes clear, one key difference this year is that the state has changed the law about distance learning. This year, distance learning, when offered by a school, is mandatory for students to attend. We will need to take attendance, grade student work, and are fully responsible for covering the California State Standards. If for any reason you are not going to participate in MUSatHome, you must either disenroll and enroll in another school or contact me to discuss whether or not you qualify for Independent Study.
Personnel and Teacher Assignments
MUS is quite a popular place right now, and we continue to be joined by new families. In order to continue to keep class sizes low so 1) we can move to in-person classes when it is safe to do so and observe social distancing requirements and 2) to ensure individualized attention during MUSatHome, we have had to continue to make staffing adjustments to keep up with our growing student body. At last week's Board Meeting, the Board approved the following four actions:
I am thrilled to congratulate Karen Luna, who will be our newest Kindergarten teacher. Ms. Luna has served as one of our Spanish teachers for several years, but has experience as a classroom teacher as well. We know she will be wonderful in her new role.
I am also pleased to announce that Jackie Hammer has been assigned the Distance Learning, Independent Study, and Home Hospital Care Teacher on Special Assignment role. Her flexibility and ability to work effectively with all her colleagues make her uniquely suited to this role. She will be a crucial support as we embark upon a complex year.
Rather than fill Jackie Hammer's second grade spot with another second grade position, I am using the authority granted by the Board to create a combination class. That means that instead of having four second grade classes with 13 or 14 students and three third grade classes with 16 or 17 students we will have three second grades, three third grades, and one two/three combination class...all with 15 or fewer students. This keeps class sizes low which will be helpful in Zoom and vital for in-person learning.
To fill this second/third grade combination class position, we have reached out to Reilly Cochran, who has taught both 6th grade and 3rd grade at MUS and also has classroom experience in the 2nd grade. We're thrilled to have her back, and know that her experience in both second and third grade will make her well equipped to take on this challenge. I have personally taught in a combination class, have been a principal in a school with combination classes, and have been a superintendent in a district that had combination classes. Students reach the same levels of academic achievement in a combination class as in a standard class, and we will work to provide additional support to Ms. Cochran to make sure that all her students succeed.
Speaking of second grade, we are thrilled to welcome Brighton Judy back from leave, and know that she will bring the same excellence she brought to 5th grade to this new grade level. She will make an excellent addition to the second grade team.
So, in collaboration with principal Dr. Nick Bruski...here's the way the grades and assignments stand today. Please note that this summer has already brought significant changes, and we may need to continue to make adjustments as we prepare for the successful start of the school year:
K: Stokes, McMahon, Allison, Luna
1: Cloud, Marsh, Gonzales
2: Craine, Compton, Judy
3: Trent, Monson, Gallup
4: Carrington, Soderborg, Bruski, Mather
5: Harbison, Noble, Brown, Wilson
6: Nimitarnun, Weill, Berman, Linder
A few short months ago, we were planning for 21 classrooms, and now we have 26! I am thankful to the MUS School Board which has allowed us to increase spending during these unprecedented times.
We're still working to hire a new part-time Spanish teacher as well as a handful of instructional assistants and a library instructional assistant. Wish us good fortune in our hiring!
Class Lists Timeline
We plan to post class lists on Friday, August 14th at 4:45pm. Some of you have advocated for us to move that date earlier this year, and I am afraid we need every day we have in order to balance the classes and have time to make adjustments as students continue to join our school.
Waiver Process Unknown
There is a waiver process that allows elementary schools that are in a county on the watch list to apply for permission to hold in-person classes. Since Governor Newsom's announcement about waivers, I have sought details about the process and the criteria that would be used to assess these waivers. Santa Barbara County Department of Public Health has let us know that they are not accepting waivers at this time both 1) because of the metrics in the county and 2) because the state has not advised them on the process. According to Das Williams, First District Supervisor for the County of Santa Barbara:
The waiver process requires a School Superintendent to consult with Labor, parents and community stakeholders. The Superintendent then requests a waiver from the County Health Officer. After those steps, the Health Officer would review the local epidemiology data with CDPH and get their approval to grant a waiver. It is not solely an independent decision by the local Health Officer. Given Santa Barbara County’s high rate of daily new cases and high positivity rate in testing, a waiver is not currently an option for consideration for the near future.
I will continue to keep you informed about the process, and I understand that the state plans to release details soon. It is not appropriate for me to take a position on waivers until I 1) understand the process deeply and 2) have the opportunity to first engage with labor, parents, and community stakeholders. I will continue to keep you informed as more information becomes clear.
Thank you all for your continued collaboration and flexibility. Here at MUS, we continue to work hard each day to plan for the successful opening of school on Thursday, August 20. This year, we will need to continue to adjust to new realities and change our plans quickly. What will never change is our steadfast commitment to the students of MUS and to a safe and successful 20-21 school year for all!
Moments ago, the Governor completed his remarks at his press conference regarding guidance to schools. The news conference is not yet over, and has moved on to questions and answers. A thorough webinar for school leaders is scheduled for Monday that will give me additional information, and I anticipate sending out a further update next week. The summary below represents only my general understanding after the press conference, and it's possible that I have misunderstood some details. Nevertheless, the news is consequential, so I wanted to get it out immediately.
The most immediate effect of this news is that, regretfully, we will not be able to open Summer School on Monday as planned, and will have to cancel the three-week session. As previously discussed, Santa Barbara County is on the watch list, and so we are now legally precluded from in-person instruction. Summer school participants will be receiving a separate email from Summer School Principal Holly Noble. We regret that we are not able to switch to a distance learning model for Summer School at this late date, partly because we are still procuring and setting up our technology devices. Staff members who have worked hard to prepare for Summer School will be fairly compensated. My daughter was set to attend on Monday, and now our family must create a much different plan for the next few weeks. I sincerely apologize for this last-minute change, but the new state order makes this change necessary.
These announcements also mean that we will begin the year in a Phase 5/distance learning model. We refer to distance learning as MUSatHome. In the coming weeks, I will be sending out comprehensive information on schedules, what to expect, and videos so that you and your children can prepare for a successful MUSatHome experience. Fortunately, all along we have been planning for multiple phases of instruction, so we are in no ways "behind" on planning for a successful MUSatHome launch on August 20, our first day of instruction. Thank you in advance for your patience as we prepare comprehensive information for your review.
The news on facial coverings will take a bit longer for us to understand and adjust to, but as we are likely to begin the school year in MUSatHome, it appears we will have some time to understand what rules we must adhere to and in what cases we may take a more conservative stance. What is clear is that we will follow the requirements for all students in grades 3 and above to wear facial coverings for in-person instruction unless they have one of the limited health exceptions. What is not yet clear to me is if we may take a stricter stance for students in lower grades, or whether we need to adhere to the recommendation that younger students should not be required to wear facial coverings. As this picture becomes clearer, I will continue to inform and involve you. Again, unfortunately it appears that MUS will have some time to think about this as our county is on the watch list and must be off it for 14 days before we have the option of returning to in-person classes.
Our children are depending on us to do all we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We didn't need another reason to do all we could in this regard, but now we know that our return to in-person instruction absolutely depends upon us doing our part. As the Governor stated today, let's all practice social distancing, exhibit good hand hygiene, wear facial coverings, self-isolate when we are showing any symptoms, and minimize mixing.
Our children are also depending on us to continue to put their education and social and emotional health first. I am very disappointed that returning to in-person classes has been delayed by the Governor's new mandates. That said, my team and I will now devote all of our positive energy to making sure that MUSatHome is successful for our students for as long as that model is required. The preparations we have made for Phase 3/in-person instruction have not been a waste as we will certainly take advantage of this excellent work when we do return to school.
Once again, my analysis of the Governor's comments may be incomplete or incorrect in certain instances, but I wanted to get this news to you right away. We are all standing together, and we will make this a wonderful year for our students!
I hope that this email finds you well and that you are settling into your new summer routine. For those of you who will be new to the Montecito Union School (MUS) Community in the 2020-2021 school year, welcome! I very much look forward to meeting you in person!
The purpose of this email is to give you an update on our ongoing planning for the fall. Please know that all of these plans are preliminary and subject to change as we get new information and/or orders from Santa Barbara Public Health (SBPH). Also, please know that this is an update, and not the detailed plan itself. After reading this email you may still have many questions. I certainly do! I thank you in advance for your patience as we continue to develop more detailed information that will be shared later this summer.
Our goal in this planning process has been to protect the health and safety of our students, staff members, and our community while maximizing students’ time on campus. We want to get students back to “in person” school for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, we want to do all that we can to provide for students’ academic success. I am proud of how we all worked together during MUSatHome (our distance learning model), and students benefited from our hard work. That said, most students did not receive the academic benefit they would have if they had attended school in person. Second, students need to engage with their peers in order to continue to progress socially and emotionally, and to be the happy and engaged kids we want them to be.
Our ThoughtExchange survey certainly showed that parents want the students back in school as well. 98% of parents said they would or were likely to send their children to “in-person” school, provided proper precautions and protocols were put in place. 92% of parents would choose “in-person” school over independent study, if given the choice. Therefore, getting 100% of students back to campus five days a week has been our goal, provided we could do that in a way that was compliant with the health orders and could provide for the safety of our learning community.
It’s not enough to simply bring students back to campus, however. We want to bring them back safely and have them feel safe as well. We want them to succeed at the highest levels academically, and also want to organize things in such a way as they can still have fun, be kids, and thrive emotionally and socially. It’s a big task, and together I am sure we can do it!
Preparing Multiple Plans
I think we would all love it if we had a certain future to prepare for, but I don’t have to tell you that things can change quickly with COVID-19. In order to ensure we are ready to start the year (and to make sure we can continue operations throughout the year, even if the health situation changes in our community) we have been making plans for five different scenarios based on five possible phases that would dictated by the orders of Santa Barbara Public Health (SBPH):
No health orders
Continued messaging about hygiene
No groups of a maximum number (for example, 50 or more people)
For MUS, this would mean restrictions in the auditorium, classrooms, etc.
Six feet of social distance
All rules from phase 2 apply
Rules about hygiene and cleaning
Mandates and/or recommendations about personal protective equipment (PPE)
All rules from Phase 3 apply
No groups of a maximum number (for example, 10 or more people)
For MUS, this would mean significant restrictions in the auditorium, classrooms, etc.
Stay at home order issued
All rules from phases 2, 3, and 4 still apply
For MUS, this would mean distance learning, and we would seek to build upon and improve our MUSatHome system
Focus on Phase 3
Based on the current SBPH order (attached), the California Public Health Interim Guidance for Schools (attached), and the current metrics in the county (available at https://publichealthsbc.org/
I am thrilled to report that (based on what we know now) we will be able to realize the goal to get 100% of the students back to campus every school day in a Phase 3 plan. To make this possible, there are many steps that we need to take as a community.
Lowering Class Sizes to Allow for Six Feet of Social Distance
One of the biggest moves we are making will be reallocating resources at the school in order to open up more classroom sections. This will allow us to more easily comply with the directive to maintain six feet of social distance, especially when indoors. Many of you shared the idea to open up more classes to lower student numbers with us in the recent survey, and one such idea that was shared generated a 4.0 out of 5.0 positive response rate. Teachers advocated for this as well after a design thinking challenge we held at school revealed how much better the learning and health environment is (in the time of COVID-19 social distancing) in classes with fewer students. While our original staffing plan called for 21 classes, we now plan to move forward with 25 classes. To add classes, we have assigned one teacher to a classroom that had not been assigned, and have reassigned three of our non-scheduled specialists to the classroom (our Multi Tiered Systems of Support teacher on special assignment, our technology teacher on special assignment, and our math specialist will all be reassigned to the classroom). We will be working to hire additional instructional assistants to help staff these classes up to our MUS standards. Moving forward with 25 classes allows us to significantly lower class sizes, and, though this may change as more students join the school, currently all classes are in the 12-16 student range. We plan to continue to offer math enrichment clubs and teams at school, and will be working to support our technology needs with non-teaching staff members.
By lowering class sizes, we can succeed in providing 6 feet of social distancing within the classroom. This change won’t be easy. To ensure that all students are in a “real” classroom, we are converting classrooms that were used for small group work into traditional homeroom classes. To provide for social distance in the classroom, it is necessary that all students have individual desks and work spaces. Many of our lower grade classes feature more flexible seating, such as larger tables that seat several students. While these are wonderfully conducive to collaboration when times are normal, this furniture does not easily allow for social distancing. So, we are purchasing approximately 200 new student desks for classes that did not have them in order to meet this moment. Thinking towards the future, we have selected desks with lockable wheels that can easily be reconfigured into larger group settings when the time is right.
By reallocating staff, adding staff, and purchasing furniture, we are putting many resources towards the goal of lowering class sizes in order to aid us in providing 6 feet of social distancing in every class, with 100% of students present.
Reorganizing Specialist Experiences to Maximize Safety
Students will still participate in PE, music, art, Spanish, and receive lessons from the teacher librarian. Students will continue to receive roughly the same amount of time in these areas throughout the year, but these specialist experiences will be organized differently. Though planning is ongoing, we are considering the location, scheduling, use of technology, and organization of these experiences throughout the year to maximize the safety of students and staff. It is not in everyone’s best interests for a single staff member to physically see 360 students during the course of a week, and careful planning is ongoing to ensure these enriching experiences can occur safely.
Ensuring Sick, Symptomatic, or Potentially Sick People Stay Home
We all need to work together to make sure students and staff members with symptoms of COVID-19 are not present at school. SBPH lists the following as possible symptoms of COVID-19: sore throat, runny nose, fever, chills, not feeling well, sneezing, coughing, gastro-intestinal symptoms (such as soft stool or stomach cramps), and a new loss of smell and/or taste. If your child has any of these symptoms, please, please, please keep them at home. As recommended by SBPH, we are also building protocols to ensure students and staff engage in daily, rigorous health screenings prior to entering our learning community. While details are still being worked out, the daily student health check will involve the visual check for symptoms, a temperature check, as well as some simple questions when appropriate. To prepare, we have ordered a large number of infrared (no-touch) thermometers and PPE, and will train staff members in the screening protocols. This will include training in how to always go about these procedures in a kind and supportive way that never puts negative attention on a student. School should be a warm and inviting place for all students.
If the daily health check presents a red flag, or if a student exhibits any of these symptoms throughout the school day, we will isolate the student. Again, we will do this kindly, and will make every attempt to not put negative attention on the student. We are so fortunate to have a full-time school nurse who will then assess the situation and make a determination if that student needs to head home. If this is the case, we will ask for you to get an “all clear” note from your doctor before returning to school.
Hygiene, Personal Protective Equipment, and Face Coverings
Handwashing or sanitization will be required before students come into class, before and after recess, before and after lunch, and whenever a student coughs, touches their face, etc. New handwashing stations (purchased by MUSF!) will come in handy to accomplish this, as well as lots of hand sanitizer throughout the campus.
Staff Members will use a combination of face coverings, face screens, and social distancing throughout the school day. They will be trained in the use of this equipment and the policies and procedures required as they work at school. Those that work in office settings that interact directly with the public will be separated with plexiglass, plastic, or similar materials. Our school nurse will have a range of protective equipment to protect her and the students she is serving.
One of the most difficult subjects has been the subject of face coverings for students. There is a variety of parental opinions on this subject. In our survey, the majority of parents advocated to not make face coverings mandatory for students. As an example, the statement “Students and staff should not have to wear masks” was rated 3.5 out of 5 with the largest number of respondents rating this statement a 5. That said, the second highest number of respondents rated this statement a 1, indicating strong disagreement. Clearly, there will be strong disagreement from some however we approach this important question, so it has become very important for us to follow the advice of our public health experts in this matter.
The California Public Health “Interim Guidance for Schools” says the following about face coverings for students:
Students should be encouraged to use cloth face coverings. Cloth face coverings are most essential in settings where physical distancing cannot easily be maintained, such as school buses or other settings where space may be insufficient.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated the following in their document, “CDC Activities and Initiatives Supporting the COVID-19 Response and the President’s Plan for Opening America Up Again:”
Face coverings may be challenging for students (especially younger students) to wear in all-day settings such as school. Face coverings should be worn by staff and encouraged in students (particularly older students) if feasible and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Information should be provided to staff and students on proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings. Face coverings are not recommended for babies or children under the age of 2, or for anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the covering without assistance. Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected (many people carry COVID-19 but do not have symptoms).
The Santa Barbara County Public Health “Guidelines for Schools and School-based Programs” states:
Students should be encouraged to use cloth face coverings. Students and staff should be frequently reminded not to touch the face covering.
We will be following the recommendations of California Public Health, the CDC, and SBPH and will be recommending students use cloth face coverings. We will provide cloth face coverings and will train students in the use and care of these. We will encourage students to wear the face coverings and to not touch them, especially when six feet of social distancing cannot easily be maintained.
Eliminating Non-essential Visitors to Campus
To further reduce person-to-person contact, we will be eliminating visitors, volunteers, and speakers coming to campus except in the case of emergencies or essential services. This includes parents coming to school. If you need to drop off a lunch or school materials, that business will be conducted through the intercom and through the open window at the front of the campus. We’ll try to make this as personal as possible given the limitations, but the safety of our students, staff members, and community will have to come first. I know that this will change the “start of school day” routines for many of us. For example, some families walk their child to the classroom door every day, which would not be possible under this new protocol. I wanted to give you plenty of notice that some of your family traditions may have to be adjusted temporarily in order to put the safety of our students, staff members, and community first.
We have purchased new sanitizing equipment for our learning areas. This includes “backpack” style sprayers that will be used nightly to disinfect every learning space. We will also make hand-held spraying solution available in each classroom and will train staff in its use. Rigorous cleaning schedules and protocols are being developed, and new cleaning solutions are being purchased. Please note that schools must follow a rigorous set of laws to ensure these cleaning solutions are safe for students and the environment. We are also rethinking how students use and interact with learning materials in order to prevent cross-contamination, because even though the main method of spreading this disease is from the droplets that leave our noses and mouths, surfaces can be a vector. Learning materials that were previously shared will be organized for individual use, and materials that must be shared will be cleaned between uses.
Utilizing Outdoor Areas and Increasing Circulation of Air
We are making plans to maximize our use of the many, beautiful outdoor areas on our campus. We are adding some additional shaded areas, and have asked teachers to implement even more outdoor learning into their unit plans. We are also getting ready to more fully utilize the Nature Lab (the property to our immediate south) and are hoping to complete some demolition and access upgrades by the start of the school year to allow more instruction outdoors on this part of our property. When indoors, we will ask that (weather permitting) doors and windows be open to allow for increased circulation of air in inside spaces.
To allow students to eat outside safely, we are planning for an additional lunch period (moving from three lunch periods to four) and different physical separation during lunches and recess periods. We want to do this in a way where kids will still have fun, be kids, and feel welcomed and not threatened by the school environment. Will recess and physical education still occur outside? Absolutely. We’re working on new practices and protocols to do this safely. Stay tuned for those details.
Independent Study and Home Hospital Teaching for Students Who Must Be Excluded from In-Person School
We are using every available staff person to make our “100% of the students back to campus every school day” a reality. As a result, we will not be able to simultaneously deliver MUSatHome-type instruction (with live Zoom lessons) for students that need to stay home while also delivering instruction to the vast majority of students on campus. If a student needs to stay home for a few weeks because of symptoms, exposure to COVID-19, or contracting the illness, they will have an opportunity to learn through an independent study plan (see http://www.gamutonline.net/
To reiterate, our plans will continue to evolve and change as we get more information and build out our plans. This email is intended as an update, and not a formal plan.
While most of this email has been about the logistics, policies, and procedures, all of us are 100% committed to making MUS a warm, child-centered, friendly, inviting place in the time of COVID-19. Students will be celebrated when they follow these new procedures, and will not be ostracized when they need a reminder. We know that a student may need a reminder to stay 6 feet distant. We realize that a 5 year-old may forget social distancing and try to hug their teacher. We realize that a student may touch their face and forget to wash their hands. When this happens, our reminders will be supportive, encouraging, and done with love.
I am excited that, based on current conditions, we will get 100% of kids back to school every school day. Other districts will not be so fortunate. Imagine a school with 32 kids per class. 6 feet of social distance is not possible with so many bodies. Schools around us may adopt an A/B schedule for students not because they lack imagination or drive, but because their funding level doesn’t allow them to do so. While there are many challenges in front of us, I am so grateful my daughter attends MUS, so thrilled that all of our students will be able to be so well-served next year, and so thankful that you will all be a part of making this plan successful.
To that end, please keep looking in your emails for several calls to action. We have a busy summer ahead, and may need to call in some parent volunteers to make this all happen in time. Thanks in advance for answering those calls, and for your continued patience as we build out the details of this evolving plan. In fact, here’s the first call to action: please consider getting tested for COVID-19. There are now ample tests available in our county, and as some who carry the disease are asymptomatic, testing will be an important tool moving forward. Go to https://publichealthsbc.org/
We are Montecito Union School. We are Mustangs standing tall. Together, we can make for a fantastically successful 2020-2021 school year!