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Lompoc school district opts against seeking waiver to reopen, announces student support programs
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Lompoc school district opts against seeking waiver to reopen, announces student support programs

Although Lompoc Unified School District will not make an attempt to bring students back to campuses at this time, district officials this month announced a pair of programs — as well as a couple of major donations received — that are aimed at supporting students and families as they navigate the difficulties of distance learning.

LUSD leaders revealed Wednesday that the district would not seek a waiver from the state to reopen its elementary schools. The waiver opportunity was first made available by the state in August, and 22 schools in Santa Barbara County had pursued the process, as of Friday.

District officials, in explaining the decision to decline pursuing a waiver, cited a desire to operate with an abundance of caution amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the same time as that decision was made, district officials announced that teachers would soon be made available after school to help support students, and that the district would begin offering Saturday school for students via Zoom by the end of September.

In addition to those programs, the district also was able to beef up its supply of materials — and replace some items that were lost or damaged in recent break-ins — thanks to donations from Yardi Systems and the United Way that totaled nearly $100,000.

“This is great for LUSD students,” Superintendent Trevor McDonald said of the donations, which the district plans to use for new Chromebooks, internet hot spots and other materials related to distance learning.

Waiting to reopen

While district officials expressed a desire to get students back on campus as soon as they are safely able to do so, they said this simply wasn’t the right time. District administrators and the Lompoc Federation of Teachers, a union that represents most Lompoc educators, both agreed to not seek a waiver at this time.

In its statement announcing the move, the district noted that “we have seen the grim consequences that have befallen school districts that have too quickly transitioned back to on-campus instruction” during the pandemic.

“While we want to have our students back in our schools, the safety of LUSD staff and students is of paramount importance,” McDonald said. “The key is not only reopening schools but keeping them open. Once the positive case numbers decline, we look forward to working with our labor partners and bringing students back on campus.”

The statement from the district noted that LUSD staffers in many ways are able to relate to students and families experiencing the stress and challenges of navigating a new landscape.

The statement noted that the reason a waiver is required at this time is because Santa Barbara County is still on the state’s monitoring list due to its high coronavirus case rate, and suggested that LUSD would ultimately make a “slow transition” from full remote learning to one-on-one assessments, then to small groups and to a hybrid model before an eventual return to traditional in-person classes.

“As educators, our desire is to get everyone back in the classroom as soon as we can safely do so,” said Skyler Petersen, president of the Lompoc Federation of Teachers. “However, the emphasis must be on health and safety. 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.”

The district’s mantra throughout the pandemic, according to LUSD leaders, has been “Go slow, work together, do it right.” In line with that, LUSD officials said they and the teachers union agree that it is better to err by being overly cautious than to move too quickly and potentially compromise the health and/or lives of students, staff or community members.

“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 LUSD Deputy Superintendent Bree Valla.

Added support

The new after-school and weekend offerings by the district are aimed at supporting students who may be struggling to keep up with their online classes.

The after-school program was scheduled to begin as soon as this week. Through the program, a pair of bilingual teachers will be available to provide support from 3 to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays. The teachers will work with students from all grade levels and will have time set aside to consult with students’ traditional classroom teachers so that they will be able to provide help with specific assignments.

“We wanted to find a way to assist families with schoolwork, accessing technology and social-emotional needs,” McDonald said.

For the Saturday sessions, which are scheduled to begin later in the month, students will have access to four hours of assistance from a range of LUSD teachers.

“This will be an opportunity for students who missed class during the week to catch up, or for those students who may want additional learning opportunities to get just that,” Valla said.

John Karbula, LUSD’s assistant superintendent of business, echoed that sentiment.

“Our goal is to ensure that by the end of this school year students are at grade level, and the difficulties of distance learning will not negatively impact students,” he said. “One of our objectives has been to identify ways to mitigate learning loss that students may have experienced. We are excited to be able to fund these opportunities for our students.”

For more information on LUSD and its services, visit lusd.org.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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Reporter

Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base for the Lompoc Record. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.

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