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MBUSD Update: Hybrid Plans Progress; Older Students Report Stress

Nov 05, 2020 12:42PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Editor's note: Please see today's story on how all five Manhattan Beach elementary schools have been granted TK-2 hybrid program waivers by L.A. County.

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District on Tuesday night presented an updated look at the 2020/21 school year, as plans continue to unfold.

Key takeaways from the meeting include: 

  • The district continues to bring more high-needs hybrid cohorts back to school; 
  • Elementary school parents who were surveyed overwhelmingly chose in-person rather than distance learning for their children; 
  • The district is supporting parent efforts to urge county officials to allow TK-5 hybrid programs to open, in line with the rest of the state; 
  • Preliminary results from survey of secondary school students reveal increased stress and lack of personal connections.

Expanding Special Needs Hybrids; Preparing for TK-2

School officials said on Wednesday night that they were continuing to bring more special needs students back for in-person learning.

The district plans to open additional elementary high needs hybrid cohorts at every elementary school by November 9. Additionally, they will open at least one high needs hybrid at Manhattan Beach Middle School and Mira Costa High School by November 30.

The district is not yet allowed to reopen for all elementary students, but the classrooms will be ready when MBSUD gets the green light, said MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews.

"The work that needed to be done has been done," said Matthews, citing HVAC updates and the acquisition of PPE (personal protective equipment). "It’s not that we’re starting school tomorrow, but we’re ready to make it happen when it happens with our TK-2 hybrid."

Currently, in Los Angeles County, schools are not allowed to reopen for in-person instruction while the county is still in the "purple tier," representing the highest rate of infections. However, the county is granting waivers to 30 schools per week to reopen TK (transitional kindergarten) through second grade hybrid programs. MBUSD has submitted its waiver application and is waiting to hear results.

When the district has safely moved to the "red tier," representing a lower level of infections, the schools will be able to open all grades of elementary schools for hybrid learning programs.

Notably, the district is also supporting an effort by local parents to lobby county officials to permit hybrid programs for all elementary grades while in the purple tier. A statewide rule allows for waivers for TK-6 hybrid programs to open during the purple tier, but the county has adopted a stricter standard, allowing only for TK-2 waivers. 

Parents Largely Opt for In-Person Learning

Earlier this week, MBUSD surveyed elementary school parents about whether they would choose in-person or distance learning for their students. This non-anonymous survey will allow the district to begin planning the cohorts and assigning staff to groups. 

In the survey, parents overwhelmingly indicated that they would send their children back for in-person learning. The percentage of parents saying they would choose in-person learning was 77% for TK, 80% for kindergarten, 79% for 1st grade, 83% for 2nd grade, 88% for 3rd grade, 80% for 4th grade, and 86% for 5th grade.

Matthews noted that some parents remained undecided. In the public comments section of the meeting, several parents had written in to say that they didn't have enough information to make a commitment, especially before the holiday season when COVID-19 cases may spike.

However, board chair Jennifer Cochran said, "I’m glad we’re asking people these questions now, because makes it a much smoother, faster transition to be able to start that process [of placing students] once we get the go-ahead. Looping grades 3-5 into a TK-2 model that might already be running is much easier than starting something from scratch. I don’t want to see that kind of ramp up time again."

Cochran continued: "DPH [the county Department of Public Health] seems to change their mind a lot, and you just never know when we’re going to get some different change in protocol that would allow us to go quicker."

Secondary Students Report Stress

Finally, the district sent a survey to all Manhattan Beach Middle School and Mira Costa High School on Tuesday. Preliminary results (with 19% of students having responded) show indications of social isolation and stress. 

When asked "What do you miss most about being on campus?" both middle and high school students overwhelmingly chose "Being with my friends/peers."

Another question seemed to confirm that the school shutdown has limited social interactions, especially new ones. One question read: "One of the greatest challenges of distance learning is interacting with peers. This year, to what degree have you been able to make any new friends?" 90% of middle school students responded "a few times" or "not at all" and 97% of high school students responded "a few times" or "not at all."

And on the issue of stress, many students seemed to indicate more stress than before. When asked to rate their level of stress/anxiety, 71% of middle school students said their stress levels were "way worse" or "worse" than before the pandemic. At the high school level, 89% said their stress levels were "way worse" or "worse."

Student board members Emma Clarke and Joe Staszkow were leaders on the effort to survey students, and board members thanked Clarke and Staszkow for taking the lead in reaching out to students. 

"I think this gives students an opportunity to be heard and to feel that their voice matters," said board member Jennifer Fenton. "It’s nice that we’re giving them some dedicated time to look at their social-emotional needs."

Board member Sally Peel noted that all of the (adult) members of the school board had children in school at the secondary level, and the majority of cabinet members also have secondary students, so they understood the frustrations and challenges. "Yes, we really want to see our secondary students back in school," she said.

Matthews has said that he will share the final results of the survey in his Monday email. (If you have a middle or high school student who has not yet responded to the survey, please urge them to do so. They will find the survey in their MBUSDapps email.)

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