What will Manhattan Beach schools look like when the fall semester begins? The Manhattan Beach Unified School District
is preparing for a range of possibilities, according to MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews.
Matthews, speaking at Wednesday night's school board meeting, laid out three possibilities for instruction in the fall: In-person classes (i.e. a return to normal), remote instruction, or some sort of hybrid of the two.
Either way, Matthews said, the schools will need to be flexible to respond to changing situations - and possibly might even need to transition from one model to another at some point during the school year.
"It is wildly uncertain; we have to prepare for many possibilities," said Matthews.
Matthews noted that many groups and organizations are continuing to examine the topic, including the Los Angeles County Office of Education; the L.A. County Department of Public Health, the CDC, OSHA, other school districts, and labor unions.
No matter what, he noted, the schools would need to observe the guidelines of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, he said. "We have to abide by the rule of law."
Schools Would Look Vastly Different
If and when students return to school, the schools would most likely look vastly different
from when students last attended classes in March, Matthews said.
Students would need to maintain physical distances, with fewer students per class, and/or classes potentially being held outdoors. The school would try to minimize changing between classes and would possibly keep students grouped in cohorts that would not mingle with others on campus.
There might need to be health protocols as well, which could include scanning thermometers as students entered campus, as well as PPE (personal protective equipment) for staff in the front office, health office, cafeteria, and one-to-one aides.
There would also be plenty of handwashing, and masks would be mandatory. (The school would need to provide masks to any student who did not have one.) Classrooms would need to be sanitized each time a group of students left, and students would need to help with the sanitizing because there would not be enough staff power to manage the task.
Lunchtime would look much different: Either lunchtimes would be staggered, or possibly lunches could be delivered to locations on campus rather than having students go to a lunchroom.
Additionally, lunches might be offered on a "grab and go" basis for students to take as they left campus.
Instruction Would Need to Be Flexible
If the school returns to an online and distance learning model, Matthews said, the instruction would need to be "more robust" with greater accountability. (Teachers have done an amazing job with pulling together this semester's online learning with little to no notice, but this semester was a "transition phase," said Matthews.)
The online learning model would need to include synchronous (students learning at the same time) and asynchronous learning. Teachers in the same grade would develop a list of asynchronous learning video resources that all students in that grade could access.
There would be one platform for assignments and communications, such as Google Classroom.
Additionally, even if school went back to "normal" in the fall, there would still need
to be online options. That might apply if a student was unable to
return to school because of health concerns, or if a student was subject
to quarantine if a family member was sick.
Multiple Challenges Remain
Aside from health protocols and instruction, the district also needs to sort through issues relating to staffing and human resources; technology support; support for students with special needs; support for parents, especially working parents; and social and emotional wellness for the entire school community.
And then there's the elephant in the room: the budget crisis that is looming over Manhattan Beach public schools. That crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as revealed in Governor Newsom's May revision to the state budget.
In January, Governor Newsom's budget proposal called for $84 billion for California's K-12 schools. By last week, however, that number was revised downward to $70.5 billion, the lowest amount since the 2015/16 school year. That left schools across the state scrambling to figure out how to manage the losses.
According to MBUSD Deputy Superintendent Dawnalyn Murakawa-Leopard, it is now clear that MBUSD needs to begin to prepare for a significant amount of
additional expenditure reductions, above and beyond those already in progress
A new forecast for the 2020/2021 school year shows a potential hole of $3.2 million in MBUSD's budget, said Murakawa-Leopard. Now the school district is faced with the task of planning out a budget by the end of June to fill in those numbers - without even knowing for sure that those will be the final numbers.
"This recession is coming at the absolute worst time for us," noted Matthews. "The $3.2 million is what we hope is the worst case, and we hope it could be mitigated by something else, but we have about a month to figure out what to do."
The district plans to move forward by gathering stakeholder input on re-opening, including a virtual town hall and a survey sent to employees and parents.
Additionally, the school will be forming a small steering committee to advise on re-opening guidelines, with a wide cross-section of stakeholder groups represented.
"We’re going to honor everyone’s input and do the best we can," said Katherine Whittaker-Stopp, MBUSD's assistant superintendent for educational services.