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How we are keeping everyone healthy and safe
We are overjoyed to welcome students back onto our campuses to receive instruction directly from their teachers in their classrooms. It has been more than a year since classes were dismissed from school buildings and reconnected online. As we begin the return to in-person teaching and learning this week, with the youngest students first, we would like to describe some of the steps the district has taken to make this return safe for all students, staff members and community members.

The California K12 School Guidance Plan is based on layers of protections that work together to provide a safe in-person learning environment. The layers are listed in order of importance on the state’s Safe Schools Hub website in this priority: Face coverings, Stable groups, Physical distancing, Adequate ventilation, Hand hygiene, Symptom and close contact exposure screening (with exclusion from school for staff or students with symptoms or with confirmed close contact), and Surveillance or test screening. The Safe Schools Hub states that the first three health and safety measures are a necessity. Here is what SMBSD has in place for these strategies.

Face Coverings
In compliance with Santa Barbara County Public Health (SBCPH) orders, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) is requiring all people on our properties (schools and other sites) to wear face masks, unless an exemption applies. For our district staff we have supplied more than 18,000 cloth face coverings since March of 2020. We have also purchased 90,400 disposable masks to have available when staff, students or visitors arrive without a face covering. Finally, we have received donations of 45,000 masks from state sources and 50,000 masks from community agency donations, all to supply students and staff members (when needed) with masks to maintain protection against the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, face shields will be available for specific needs and situations.

Stable Groups
The learning program is currently built around maintaining space and stable groups. We have created safe and normal learning environments so that each student maintains the appropriate separation between all other students and staff in the classroom. Schedules will be designed so that small groups of students and staff stay as consistent as possible, establishing their own “bubble” and reducing the risk of COVID transmission. The number of visitors to sites will be limited and kept outdoors and at a distance when possible.

Physical Distancing
As described earlier, we are maintaining the appropriate distance between students and staff, based on the guidance provided by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Sites and departments have been marked with paint and tape to reinforce how students and staff members can maintain their physical distance and move about campus safely. Sites/schools have their own paint and stencils so their walking flow can be adjusted easily to changing conditions as students return. Sinks and other fixtures in restrooms have been spaced apart to make certain that sufficient space remains while people are washing hands, etc. 

Adequate Ventilation
The school district Maintenance Department has made ventilation a priority since March of 2020. The maintenance staff has increased the number of times they change air filters for the mechanical units. Some units accommodate a high efficiency filter. In all schools and buildings, the district has added Bi-Polar Ionization Units to the air returns in front of the air filters so that the air is cleaned and the COVID virus is killed as the ventilation systems cycle. In addition to the mechanical systems, staff members have also made certain that all windows that are designed to open can be opened to allow the exchange of air. Heaters and HVAC systems are programed to make sure there are as many air exchanges as possible in our buildings. The ventilation system is also programmed to turn on 2 hours before people arrive and stay on 2 hours after people leave.

Hand Hygiene
Hand hygiene is also important. While washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is preferred, the time that takes makes it less practical as a strategy. To make the most of the time for teaching and learning, 5 additional hand washing stations have been added to each school as well as 20 portable motion sensor hand sanitizer dispensers in common areas. These items. as well as other sanitizer dispensers in all classrooms, have been provided to give many opportunities for staff and students to quickly sanitize their hands and prepare for the work at hand.

Symptom and Close Contact Screening
The district continues to actively health screen staff members and will also begin a daily thermal (temperature) scan process of all students during arrival. This may be a hand held manual process at first but in a short period of time we will have thermal scanning cameras at each school that will allow students to simply walk through an area in view of the camera and the camera will alert monitoring staff to an elevated temperature. If someone is identified as having an elevated temperature, they will be asked to step aside and be scanned manually. The regular health screening protocol applies if the elevated temperature is validated.

Additionally, families and employees will be provided with information about COVID-19 and will be asked to self-screen themselves at home and not show up to the site if they are experiencing any of the symptoms potentially related to COVID-19, have had a Close Contact exposure to someone with a confirmed case, or have tested positive for COVID-19.

Cleaning and Disinfection Protocols
The Santa Maria-Bonita School District is committed to following all applicable guidance/regulations from Cal-OSHA, the CDC, and the CDPH with regard to cleaning and disinfecting schools and district buildings on both a routine basis and in response to a confirmed case of COVID-19. Deep cleaning and disinfecting of schools will happen every evening and especially between the A and B student attendance groups.

In addition to the signage required by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, other signage has been distributed and posted at all schools and sites to remind students, employees, and visitors about our COVID-19 safety requirements, including the use of a face covering, proper physical distancing, etc.

Surveillance Testing
All SMBSD employees are tested for COVID-19 once every two months. This program has helped to identify asymptomatic individuals and reduce the possibility of transmission on our sites. We intend to continue with this testing program for the time being until ceasing is deemed appropriate through the evaluation of local guidance and COVID-19 cases within the community.

Other Measures
The school district has been working quickly to purchase and deliver many items to ensure that health and safety is maximized, sharing of supplies is limited, personal protective equipment is provided for all, and special gear is supplied for the CARES rooms where individuals that appear to have COVID-19 symptoms will be housed until they can leave campus. We have ordered 13,000 plexiglass student desk barriers and 580 barriers for teacher desks. We have ordered 3,500 safety cones to supplement the painted markers and stickers that will guide walking traffic and groupings. We have ordered 200,000 pairs of disposable gloves to make sure there is easy access to gloves for all. Finally, 17,352 individual sets of student supplies are being sent to all classrooms to limit sharing. Many more health and safety measures will come as schools determine the best way to keep students and staff protected.

Addressing the health and safety of staff and students depends mostly on individual staff members, students and their families. We all need to be committed to implementing these protective measures and to reinforcing these measures among children and adults. This requires discipline and diligence. We must all do our part to make certain that the on-campus learning environment is healthy, safe and vibrant for our students.

Thank you all for your continuing support.

Published: Wed Apr 21 10:44:07 PDT 2021