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MBUSD Board Approves Back-to-School Plan; Sets Course for Re-Opening Preschool

Jul 30, 2020 12:53PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The Manhattan Beach Unified School District's Board of Education last night approved a back-to-school plan that begins with distance learning. The board also approved an "intent" for the preschool to re-open in person, with the caveat that a variety of details had yet to be worked out.

The re-opening plan has been a monumental task for administrators, teachers, staff, and community members who have worked throughout the summer to examine options and assess risks.

Yet the decision about re-opening has created a great deal of animosity between factions calling for re-opening and those urging caution.

Board member Bill Fournell called for setting aside the acrimony surrounding the back-to-school planning.

"It's an amazing amount of work and a huge challenge, and hugely stressful," said Fournell. "I just want to remind everybody that the enemy is really outside the room; it’s the virus. It’s not parents vs. teachers, or teachers vs. administrators, etc. We just need to focus on the fact that this is about having to be able to patient until there’s a low enough [amount of the] virus circulating in the community, low enough hospitalization rates, low enough infection rates, low enough death rates… for us to have schools that look even reasonably close to the way we want them to look."

Fournell continued: "I just encourage everyone to be patient and be tolerant of how stressful this is for everyone. I want to put it out there because there are a lot of implications...of what we should or shouldn't do - but it’s the virus that’s the enemy, not each other."

TK-12 Grades to Start in Distance Learning

As discussed at last week's board meeting, schools will open for transitional kindergarten (TK) through 12th grade students on August 26 in distance learning mode.

The phases for students to make a physical return to school include:
  1. Distance Learning
  2. High Need Hybrid
  3. Elementary Hybrid
  4. Secondary Hybrid
  5. Full return to school with a distance learning option for students

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.

Administrators have promised that the distance learning program will return with rigor and intention. That program is set to 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.

The board also approved $173,000 for an online learning platform known as SchoolsPLP. Teachers will be able to use SchoolsPLP for a "turnkey" curriculum, to design their own curriculum, or to use a hybrid program of those two options.

Board member Karen Komatinsky noted that the board presentations only "scratched the surface" of the depth of planning and details that had gone into creating vigorous distance learning programs for the fall. "There’s a high level of enthusiasm and excitement among the teachers," she said.

Some parents have been vocal about urging MBUSD to petition state and county officials for a waiver to allow Manhattan Beach schools to open. MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews said that applying for a waiver was not appropriate while cases were still going up.

"I have no intention of applying for a waiver until those numbers are going down. We do not believe the time is right for that right now," he said.

Komatinsky added that parents should realize that "going back to school" at any near point in the future would not mean a return to what school was like before the virus. "We need you to hear us say that [the way things were before] is no longer existing," she said. "In a hybrid model, we're talking masks and plexiglass."

Intent to Reopen MB Preschool

The board also agreed to move forward with an "intent to reopen" the Manhattan Beach Preschool, with the stipulation that more details would need to be worked out. The preschool would be allowed to open because the county has a different set of regulations for preschool and child care than it does for TK-12 programs.

Staff noted that the opening will be delayed to train staff on all procedures for safety, social distancing, and sanitizing; and that the opening may be a “soft opening” in the first week, with reduced hours for students.

Additionally, the board will still need to work out budgeting/personnel issues and a tuition structure for the program.

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