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MBUSD To Delay In-Person Return; Keep Athletic Training Open

Jan 14, 2021 09:20AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Mira Costa's JV Dance Team at an in-person practice session.

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District's school board voted last night to postpone the in-person return of special cohorts until February 1, at the recommendation of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The board diverged from those recommendations, however, by voting to keep in-person athletic conditioning open. Special education assessments and child care will remain open as well.

Board members also expressed concerns about delays turning into more delays that would potentially push the in-person return to school even further into the calendar year.

In response to that issue, the board agreed that when the K-2 hybrid in-person cohorts return on February 1, the cohorts will return at two days per week for the first week (an increase from the current one day per week schedule). Then for the week starting February 8, the cohorts will move into four days per week in person, on an AM/PM schedule. 

"There is not a decision that can be made that will feel right to everybody," said board member Jennifer Cochran. "But we keep kicking the can down the road. We have [done the return to school] on such a slow roll. I don’t think there’s any reason to do that at this point...We know where our issues are; let’s move quickly."

Concern About Cases Rising

The board deliberated the issue at length with members agreeing that there were no easy answers.

On the one hand, the recommendation from the county public health department had come following the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases and the lack of hospital space to keep up with all of those cases. In Manhattan Beach alone, there were 103 new COVID cases between January 4 and January 12.

On the other hand, a large number of community members have been vocal in calling for students to return to school after more than nine months of distance education and students and parents struggling with academic and social/emotional challenges.

MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews, in making the recommendation to delay the in-person return, said that he had used county public health guidelines as the metric for this as well as all of his recommendations to the board.

Matthews' presentation to the board showed that neighboring and comparable districts had largely chosen to follow the public health department recommendations. Palos Verdes, Redondo, Hermosa, El Segundo, Torrance, and Las Virgenes districts have all decided to postpone the in-person return of the TK-2 cohorts until February 1.

Board member Jason Boxer echoed the call for caution in reopening, noting that with hospitals filled to capacity there was "zero margin for error."

"It’s so painful for me to have to advocate for anything other than to alleviate the burden that our students and parents are under ... but I'm fearful that I will look back on this in six months or a year and realize that I sent someone out to go work when I knew that the health care system couldn’t take care of them in the way that it ought to," they said, urging for a delay until February 1.

Yet board member Cathey Graves emphasized that the protocols in place at Manhattan Beach schools are working, and that there is no evidence that closing down the in-person cohorts would help in stopping the spread of the disease - and that it might have the opposite effect.

"How are we stopping the spread by closing our schools? You can't reduce zero percent," she said. "If we were spreading, if there were any evidence of that, we would need to shut down. But that’s not the case."

Regarding athletic conditioning, board members agreed that it was optional and that both coaches and parents were able to decide if it was safe for students. 

Additionally, said board member Sally Peel, "I see kids going out and socializing after school. If instead they’re doing socially distanced masked conditioning, that’s probably better than being face-to-face at the beach."

Four Separate Votes Taken

All told, the board took four separate votes.

To delay the reopening of TK-2 hybrid cohorts, and to reopen on February 1 for two days per week and the following week at four days per week, the board voted 4-1, with Graves voting no, and with student members Emma Clarke and Joe Staszkow abstaining.

To delay the reopening of the high-needs hybrid until February 1, with the exception of the Special Day Class and preschool, the board voted 5-2, with Graves and Clarke voting no.

To continue in-person athletic conditioning, the board voted 6-1, with Boxer voting no.

To continue special education assessments and child care/EDP, the board voted 7-0.

In other action, the board agreed to come back on February 3 with "creative" ideas for ways to bring up to 25 percent of students back to campus at a time, including middle and high school students, in some limited fashion.

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