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Manhattan Beach Schools Faced With 'Complex' Situation in Re-Opening

Jun 10, 2020 07:44PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Manhattan Beach schools face a "complex" situation as it makes decisions about re-opening, school officials told middle school and high school parents on Tuesday night.

"People look for simple answers - and maybe there are some - but in general, it’s layered and complex and hard to find simple solutions," said Manhattan Beach Unified School District Superintendent Mike Matthews. "That’s why no district in California has figured out exactly what’s going to happen next year."

Matthews spoke at the district's second online town hall of the week. Monday night's forum focused on elementary schools while Tuesday night's forum focused on secondary schools.

At the forum, Matthews reiterated many of the same points that he had made to parents at Monday's elementary school town hall: that MBUSD is facing tremendous budget challenges; that the district will abide by state and county public health regulations in its decisions about re-opening; and that even if the schools re-open there will need to be some form of distance learning for those families that choose not to send their children back to school.

As for secondary schools, Matthews noted that the scheduling, particularly for high schools, can get extremely complex. Given the number of electives that are available, there are "an infinite number of possibilities" for variations in schedules, making it nearly impossible to group students in cohorts.

Matthews said that one possibility was treating a semester like three semesters. So, for example, instead of having Periods 1-6 every day, student would take Periods 1-2 for the first six weeks, Periods 3-4 for the second six weeks, and Periods 5-6 for the third six weeks. Although that format is just one possibility, he noted that it represents the kind of flexible thinking that the district needs to examine. 

Grades and Rigor In the Fall Semester


One point of contention at the secondary level has been the district's decision to move to pass-fail for the completion of the spring semester in the middle school.

Katherine Whittaker Stopp, MBUSD's assistant superintendent for educational services, said that the spring school shutdown was a learning experience for both students and teachers.  "During this time we have been very forgiving because it’s been such an unknown landscape," she said.

That said, she added, when school begins again in August, students would be expected to attend class on a regular basis and middle school students would once again receive letter grades. 

Matthews reiterated that he had heard the voices of those who had called for keeping letter grades at the middle school.

"Every opinion matters, and yet we have to make a decision," he said. "I still believe that for this past semester it was the right decision. If we have to go back to [distance learning] for next year - and there’s a chance we could all go back into it - we know enough now where we can have the grades, where we can make sure that our students are expected to turn in work, and to be in class. We have had our learning time, and now it’s time to move forward with higher expectations and more accountability."


Sports: All Options on the Table


Like other aspects of the re-opening, decisions about sports programs also remain up in the air. MBUSD athletics officials continue to work closely with and listen to the direction of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and the National Federation of High School Associations (NFSHSA).

Practices and conditioning would likely be able to continue as long as there was no contact, said Matthews. He added that there was a possibility that no- or low-contact sports such as golf, tennis, badminton, and cross country could take place in the fall; with contact sports like football being moved to January.

"There’s a team of people all trying to make sports happen," said Matthews. "They know that it's important for social and emotional wellness. People are saying that we will find a way to make all of our sports happen this year. All of our coaches are paying more attention than ever to NFSHSA guidelines, and how to make sure that students are safe at all times."

Physical education classes, including "run day" at the middle school, could continue outdoors, he said.

Matthews concluded by noting that the guidelines are constantly evolving. "They have changed already and I think they will change more as we march toward August 26," he said, noting that he will continue to have frequent communications with parents over the summer.

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