The fall semester at the Manhattan Beach Unified School District
remains in flux, with new information coming in every day, but the district will finalize its plan by the end of July, district officials said at a town hall on Monday night.
MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews noted that official guidance on school re-openings had changed even since he emailed families on Thursday. On Monday morning, he said, he received a new study from the state Department of Education called "Stronger Together
" that differed slightly from recommendations he had shared earlier.
"We have just received information today that's different than Thursday than when I wrote to [families], said Matthews. "It’s probably going to keep on changing day by day, week by week."
Why Don't Schools Just Open?
Perhaps the most pressing question for many families is, why don't schools just open? That question has become especially pertinent now that other gathering places such as restaurants, hair salons, bars, and even gyms are beginning to open.
However, Matthews noted, even as these places open, they will not look like they did before and there will be many new health precautions in place - as will be the case at MBUSD.
"We want to do it safely - we want to make sure our students are safe, and we want to make sure our employees are safe," he said.
Matthews added that there are a variety of organizations that the school district looks to for guidance, including the federal Centers for Disease Control, the California Department of Health, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, OSHA, and other local institutions.
To those who would say that the district should just disregard those directions, Matthews said, "We can’t [just ignore them]. To do that would be to say to our employees and our families, 'We’ve been told what the safe route is, and we’re going to ignore that advice.'"
Distance Learning In Some Form
At the very least, there will need to be some distance learning component in place for the nearly 20 percent of families who either do not feel comfortable or are unsure about sending their students to school.
Additionally, there's a good chance that social distancing requirements may necessitate limiting the number of students on campus on any given day. This could mean that there would need to be a hybrid program of in-person learning and at-home learning for all students.
If the school pursued this avenue, students might be divided into cohorts where they would alternate days on campus (with cleaning/sanitizing in between). One model, for example, would have students in school for two days and then learning at home for two days. Another model would alternate cohorts with one week, one week off.
The "most radical" idea that the district has heard of, said Matthews, would have students in school for four days and then at home for 10 days - giving a two-week window where officials could track any potential spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases.
To the question of whether the district could expand capacity and distancing by having students learn outside in tents, "the answer is 'maybe,'" said Matthews. "Everyone believes that fresh air is critical for this. We want fresh air through our classrooms as much as possible. Having tents on top of that could add distancing."
That issue is something the district could be looking at, particularly for 4th grade and up, he said.
Again, Matthews said, everything is up for discussion as guidance and recommendations on best practices continue to evolve from day to day.
The schools will also be taking steps to ensure greater uniformity, consistency, and rigor in classes, said Katherine Whittaker Stopp, assistant superintendent for educational services.
The district and its teachers have learned a great deal over the shutdown about best practices in distance learning, she said. By the time school opens in the fall, there will be "guaranteed and viable curriculum regardless of teacher or school," as well as clear articulation about what students need to learn, and a common communications platform.
"Now that school is ending, we‘re going to take all of the feedback and put something together that is going to be 'Manhattan Beach quality,'" she said.
For the elementary schools, the district will also work out details for the Extended Day Program (EDP). Additionally, there will need to be special considerations for students with special needs who, for example, might need to work closely with aides.
As to the mask issue, Matthews acknowledged that it will be tricky to enforce for an entire day, especially for the youngest students.
"Everything we’re reading is that masks are essential and required, but I have serious doubts about how effective they will be, particularly with the younger crowd," he said. Nevertheless, he added, "It is a clear recommendation at this point so we are going to plan for it."
And last but not least, all of this is taking place under the shadow of potentially deeper budget cuts than what the district has already planned for. Matthews said there were two possible "rays of hope" for the budget; first, being the federal HEROES Act; and second, being a bill in the California legislature that would hold schools harmless for those cuts. (Neither of those options is certain to happen at this point.)
Matthews said that he will plan to send out communications more often than usual over the summer to ensure that families are up to date on the latest developments.
A second town hall meeting, geared toward parents of secondary students, will take place on Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be broadcast on MBUSD's YouTube channel. To submit questions ahead of time, click here.