As school closures near the one-year mark, a group of Manhattan Beach parents has launched a "Kids Need Classrooms" campaign to urge local and state officials to get students back to school in person.
Organizers point to evidence of students' declining emotional health from time spent out of the classroom; as well as data in other localities showing that with proper protocols, students have returned back to the classroom safely.
"Schools are not optional," said Tiffany Wright, one of the parent organizers of the group. "Going to the
bar is optional. Going to the casino is optional. We’ve got to
prioritize the schools."
Noting that some forecasts project that COVID-19 and its variants will be around for quite some time, Wright added, "Everybody is struggling right now. School closures and distance learning are not sustainable. We have to start with the mindset of, 'How do we live with it?' and make appropriate plans from there. We’re not effectively living with it right now."
Calls, Emails Begin
The message to state, county, and local officials is that California, and Los Angeles in particular, is an outlier in terms of returning to school. Los Angeles County, of which Manhattan Beach is a part, has one of the smallest percentages of students
attending in-person of any state in the country.
Starting today, the group is mobilizing parents to reach out to L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn to press the L.A. County supervisors to open up K-5/6th elementary schools as soon as possible, as permitted by the state of California.
The group is also asking parents to reach out to the Manhattan Beach City Council to advocate to local school leadership to safely open schools following state and local guidelines.
They are also urging Manhattan Beach Unified School District Superintendent Mike Matthews and the MBUSD school board to bring back the full 25 percent of students allowed on campus as "high needs hybrids," with schools being able to define "high needs" as however they deem appropriate. Currently, the MBUSD schools are far below the 25 percent mark in terms of students returning to campus.
Additionally, the group is calling on California Governor Gavin Newsom to demand that schools and sports be removed from the
tier system, which is more than twice as stringent as the CDC tier
guidance for the entire country.
The group, whose steering committee also includes parents Jenny Jackson, Kelly Gordon, and Heather Kim, is producing lawn signs to spread the group's message. One side reads "Kids Need Classrooms" and the other side reads "Let Us Play," a reference to sports as well as drama and other extracurriculars that have been limited during the pandemic. (To order a lawn sign, email KidsNeedClassrooms@gmail.com - a $10 donation is requested to cover the cost of the sign.)
Teachers Play Critical Role
Whereas many back-to-school groups paint teachers as the main roadblock to in-person education, Wright said that it was unfair to pit those sides against each other. For the back-to-school effort to be successful, she said, teachers needed to feel comfortable and supported.
"Our teachers are the biggest treasure we have in the school district," she said. "For us to be dismissive of how the teachers feel, the more it exacerbates the situation."
Wright called on the district to do more to give teachers more specific information about how classrooms would be safe, including videos or photos of classroom layouts, information about cleaners and air filters being used. (One such example is the Las Virgenes School District, which made a series of information videos prior to reopening TK-2 classrooms.)
Parents can help build that trust, she added, by being honest with the screening questions they are required to fill out before their students are allowed on campus. She said she supported a "zero tolerance" policy for families who gave false answers on the screening test, noting that teachers would have more confidence returning to the classroom with the knowledge that parents were being 100 percent honest about potential exposures.
"There’s a misconception that teachers want to stay home and that they’re lazy. That’s not what's going on and it’s polarizing," she said. "Also, it's not helpful for others to say to parents, 'Just keep your kids home for a few more months.' I want us all to be able to come together on reopening schools safely."