Students in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District just returned to school this week, but district officials are preparing for a COVID-19 surge just like other schools across the country.
“It is very important for us at the Santa Maria-Bonita School District to keep our schools open and in person,” said Maggie White, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District’s public information officer.
Dozens of parents, students, employees and community members stood in line Wednesday waiting to get tested at Liberty Elementary School in Santa Maria.
Saira Ramirez brought her daughter to get tested after she was in close contact with a classmate that tested positive.
Ramirez said she thinks testing at schools is easier for her and her family because she lives nearby. She hopes to keep her daughter in school even if it means frequent trips to this testing site.
The White House announced that they are committing five million free lab PCR tests per month and five million no-cost point-of-care tests per month to schools across the nation.
“We just provided 10.9 million tests in the last 30 days just here in California for our public schools,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom during a press conference in the city of Paramount.
The San Luis Obispo County Office of Education received and distributed 33,000 tests kits with two tests inside each packet.
According to James Brescia, the San Luis Obispo County Superintendent of Schools, kits went to “all districts, charters, private schools, and parochial schools.”
The Santa Barbara County Office of Education got 56,700 COVID-19 test kits from the state on Monday.
“We have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of our allotment of at-home test kits,” said Dr. Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools. “They provide needed relief to our students and families and are a critical tool for helping our schools mitigate the spread of the virus.”
However, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District decided to opt-out.
“Because we have already had our testing program since late September, and it’s working very, very well, we didn’t want to take those at-home test kits away from any other families, schools or districts,” explained White.
One major challenge for schools across the country is dealing with staff members calling out sick.
The San Luis Obispo County Office of Education reported that out of their 9,000 workers, they are seeing about 10% to 15% of absences.
“We put out an executive order allowing more flexibility for our public educators to bring in substitutes and retirees,” said Governor Newsom about hisexecutive order issued on Tuesday.
School officials are looking to recruit in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
“We are actively recruiting all types of substitutes including retired employees, college interns, and any others that meet minimum qualifications,” said James Brescia, San Luis Obispo County Superintendent of Schools.
“One of the things the governor has said is that retired teachers no longer have to wait a certain period of weeks or months before they go back to work,” added White.
The executive order remains in effect until March 31, 2022.
“Student teachers that are finishing up their teaching practicum and working towards getting their credential for teaching, they can teach in a classroom in their own,” said White about Governor Newsom’s order.
The Santa Maria-Bonita School District offers four permanent testing sites: El Camino, Fesler, Tommie Kunst Junior High and Liberty School.
The locations operate Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To schedule an appointment, click here.
Those interested in becoming substitute teachers can reach out to the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education or each district directly.