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Manhattan Beach Schools Prepare to 'Go Back in a Big Way'

Jul 23, 2020 01:56PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
With the near-certainty that Manhattan Beach schools are going to start the school year in distance learning mode, the district is planning for robust online programs.

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District plans to make an official announcement at its July 29 meeting about what the program will look like for the fall. But as administrators reiterated at the school board's July 22 meeting, current state and county restrictions imply that the district has no choice but to go back to distance learning.

The district has pledged that the distance learning program will include:
  • A full grading program, resulting in the issuance of standard letter grades and/or marks;
  • Clear expectations for full attendance in all class sessions and full participation in all class activities;
  • Daily instruction, and daily live interaction for students; and
  • Teaching and learning activities that will provide clear expectations, academic rigor, and support for student learning.

MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews noted that several parents have called on the district to apply for a waiver from state restrictions on re-opening. 

"There’s a lot we have to learn about waivers. We will look at them, but we should not even be thinking about waivers until we see the [COVID-19] numbers subsiding and going in the right direction," Matthews said at Wednesday's board meeting.

Committees Developing Programs, Protocols

The project of developing online programs and protocols, plus the uncertainty about what the rules will allow has kept administrators, teachers, staff members, and parents busy throughout the summer.

"Staff wants to get back to work. Everybody wants to get back to some sort of normal," said MBUSD board member Karen Komatinsky. "However it’s going to be a long time before we return to what we left in February and March."

Komatinsky noted that committees, subcommittees, and "subcommittees of subcommittees" have been working multiple hours per week to develop a program that is both rigorous and meaningful for the fall.

"The instructional team has worked tirelessly on 'What do we want this to look like?'" she said. "There’s still a lot more to come, but I hope this gives everyone out there a good sense for what we’re really talking about - the magnitude of this whole effort."

Added board member Jennifer Fenton. "We are going back to school in an online format, but we are going back in a big way."

Phase-In Plans Discussed

Beyond distance learning efforts, the board also looked at a return-to-school plan that would occur in several stages.

When conditions allow students to return to school, the first wave would bring back a hybrid program for "high-need" students. That cohort would include special needs students, English language learners, deaf and hard of hearing students, and students who are not meeting standards.

The phase-in would continue with a hybrid elementary model. TK and kindergarten students would be broken up with half of the students in the morning, and half in the afternoon (and a 90-minute cleaning period between the two sessions). A hybrid model for students in grades 1-5 would have students in person for at least two days per week. 

After learning from elementary school, and seeing a continued downward sloping curve, the next phase would be moving to a hybrid schedule at Manhattan Beach Middle School and Mira Costa High School.

Possible block scheduling options have been posted on the board's return to school presentation.

Once all students are allowed to return back to school as normal, there would still need to be a distance learning program option in place.

Throughout all of this, preschool and extended day programs (EDP) may continue to be in person, as they have less stringent requirements from the department of health. The district will discuss the return of those programs at next week's meeting.

Need for Positivity

Toward the end of the meeting, board member Sally Peel added a word of advice to parents.

"This is a time when we have an opportunity as parents to parent our children through a challenging situation," she said. "This is an opportunity to say to your children, 'The people that work for our school district - all the teachers and the employees - and a lot of parents too - are working hard to make sure that when you start school in August it’s going to be great.'"

Peel continued: It’s a good thing to encourage your children to be optimistic about it. We want to give children a great education, and a lot of that starts with how we at home parent our children. It’s very important right now that we send a message of positivity to our kids."

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