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MBUSD Takes Steps To Prepare For Distance Learning Scenario

Jul 09, 2020 09:49AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The Manhattan Beach Unified School District school board on Wednesday voted to give notice to a group of classified employees who would need to be let go if the school had to return to 100% distance learning in the fall.

The vote was a necessary legal step because the district is required to give 60 days notice to employees if there's a chance that they may need to be let go. But board members were quick to assure that those layoffs would only take place in a worst-case scenario, and that the board could rescind the action any time before it becomes effective.

"Our goal is to get everyone back here [in school]," said MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews. "The best goal would be never to have to enact this. The second best would be to get [these employees] back as soon as possible. We are at our best when our students are in school and our employees are working."

The resolution gives a 60-day notice of the possible need to lay off 75.6 FTE (full time equivalent) classified positions that would not be needed if students were learning entirely from home. Those positions include preschool teachers, Extended Day Program (EDP) teachers, instructional aides, health services assistants, grounds supervisors, an athletic trainer, a choral music accompanist, and some clerical and administrative support positions.

Nevertheless, board members agreed to look at creative ways to implement or even expand the EDP program if the district has to return to 100% distance learning. The district has received a large number of comments from parents - working parents in particular - who rely on EDP programs for child care while the parents are at work.

Plans to be Finalized July 29

Matthews said that the goal is to have a plan for the fall in place by July 29. One holdup at the moment is that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) has yet to come out with its framework of guidelines for returning to school. That framework is key, said Matthews, because although there will be federal and state recommendations, the school district is required to operate under the guidelines of the county health department.

Guiding those decisions are a complex maze of considerations such as space and distancing requirements, the school's ability to clean and sterilize, student and staff social-emotional wellness, and the needs of the most at-risk students.

And although the board acknowledged that a variety of recommendations have come out, including one from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children should return to school, medical experts continue to disagree on what that re-opening would look like.

"I don’t think there’s a board member here who does not want to re-open," said Matthews. "But it is very, very complicated." 

He added that the situation continues to be fluid with many variables - and that even if other districts say they have a plan, those plans may need to change depending on what the LACDPH comes out with. "Our goal is opening - we know that’s best for students - but safety is paramount," he said.

In the meantime, more than 90 stakeholders - including parents, teachers, administrators, and staff members - continue to work on a committee and subcommittees guiding the plan for the return to school.

"We need patience from the public that we’re working feverishly on this," said board member Karen Komatinsky. "There are multiple meetings a week, and a lot of sidebar conversations. And our work doesn’t stop as of August 26. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us in next semester...[The plan] is coming; please know we are hearing you, we are getting there. It’s just a massive project."

Uptick in Cases Causes Concern

Is there a chance that schools would need to return to 100% distance learning? The answer for now is "maybe." Both local and national health officials as well as educators are concerned about a recent uptick in cases and reports of noncompliance with health guidelines.

Matthews said that schools are being warned to prepare for a 100% distance learning scenario again if the situation becomes unsafe for students and employees.

Board chair Jennifer Cochran noted that the school would have to follow the same guidelines for COVID-19 as it does for whooping cough, which is that once there are three or more cases at a school, the school would have to be shut down.

"That’s where the compliance issue comes in," said Cochran. "I’m not making any judgment, but it will come down to that. Our compliance will determine how long we are able to stay open."

Matthews to Take Pay Cut

The board also approved - at Matthews' request - a pay cut for Matthews in the 2020/21 school year.

Matthews' contract is up at the end of the year. In light of budget challenges across the district, he requested to be furloughed for the last 12 days of his contract. 

That would bring his salary down to $234,426.30 for the school year.

Cochran thanked Matthews for offering to make this cut, and for working long hours throughout the year and especially during the coronavirus crisis. 

"Our district is full of hardworking employees, but thank you," responded Matthews.

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