In the spring of 2020, pandemic school shutdowns left classrooms empty in Santa Barbara County and across the country.
To slow the spread of coronavirus, teachers took classes online, and kids spent much of the 2020-2021 school year learning remotely.
Over a year and a half after the initial shutdowns, kids in grades K-8 face continuing impacts to their learning and wellbeing, a Santa Barbara County Grand Jury has found.
The Grand Jury was called to look into the issue after county residents raised concerns.
On Monday, Nov. 15, the jury shared the results of their investigation, which focused on remote learning's impact on elementary and middle school students.
The jury noted that all districts in the county worked hard to adjust to the changing situation.
"[The districts] did a noteworthy job to make remote learning as effective as possible," Pamela Olsen, the 2021 Grand Jury Foreperson, wrote in the jury's statement.
Still, students ended the 2020-2021 school year with gaps.
The investigation found that math and English language arts skills suffered the most. Additionally, students who struggled in school before the pandemic started were the ones hardest hit by the switch to online learning.
A less quantifiable loss is the impact distance learning had on the students' social-emotional growth, the jury found. Students were left without the chance to see peers and teachers face-to-face. When teachers were not able to see students in person, problems within students' homes were hard to detect.
Long-distance alternatives, including teletherapy and Zoom counseling appointments, left students feeling uncomfortable or disconnected.
In light of the investigation's results, school districts in Santa Barbara County created plans to double down on students' emotional health.
"Schools will be using counselors, psychologists and special programs to address issues that may present themselves," the jury's statement reads.
The jury says that districts will need to keep an eye on year-to-year academic performances and recommends a standard, county-wide assessment at the end of the current school year to use as a benchmark.
They recommend smaller class sizes, one-on-one instruction and targeted testing to improve academic results.
The jury says future county budgets will need plan for the costs associated with the county-wide changes.
The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury is made up of a volunteer citizens spread across the county's five supervisorial districts.