The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education continued its ongoing discussion about interdistrict permits Thursday night during a meeting that lasted more than 5 hours and featured a number of public comments.

Staff first advised a revision of the district’s permit policies back in December 2019. Since then, the community has been particularly concerned about the status of current and future students who live outside of the district’s boundaries but attend one of SMMUSD’s schools.

Last meeting, student board member Mia Wachtel was moved to tears as she described how her peers would be negatively affected by teacher layoffs and, this week, she once again was moved to speak.

“The student permit issue that is before the board is one that deeply impacts our current and future student populations and our collective community at large,” Wachtel said as she shared the details of conversations with teachers, students and administrative staff who believe the new language of the proposed permit policies would prohibit current permit-holders from attending SMMUSD schools.

Like district staff and the board have previously repeated, board Vice-President Laurie Lieberman said, “We do not have anything before us relating to current permit students. We are in no way addressing those tonight except with the exception of tweaking an annual verification reporting but otherwise there is no action before the board at all about revoking permits…”

Despite the attempted clarification, a number of speakers would still take the podium later to share how the permits have benefitted their educational experience and why taking the opportunity away from others in the future would be a disservice.

At the conclusion of the public’s comments, district staff shared a presentation before the board moved to discuss the specifics of the policies and seek clarity on the proposed changes.

One topic broached was an annual verification process that would require permit-holders to verify they are still employed within the boundaries of the district.

De La Torre responded that he hoped the board will allow an exception to the students who have parents who may have been laid off involuntarily. De La Torre also expressed an interest in no longer giving a higher priority to applicants who are children of city or Santa Monica College employees. Instead, he’d prefer that every worker who is employed within the boundaries of the district receive equal priority.

It’d be nice to be a little more open to that, De La Torre said. “So that we don’t just have just the three categories (prioritized).”

While he noted the substantive financial contributions made to the district by the city, board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, who is also an employee of SMC, said later in the meeting that he could imagine some city employees being upset with the fact their children aren’t being given priority in the interdistrict permit process.

“I just think that’s a problem,” Tahvildaran-Jesswein said, shortly before a question about the original intent of the policy — and if it was drafted to specifically give priority to the children of the college and city employees — went unanswered by the board.

Seeing there was still much to be discussed, Board President Jon Kean proposed tabling the item until the board’s next meeting, when the group can discuss the particulars of the policies with less of a time constraint.

After a “straw poll” was taken, the board moved to bring the item back in two weeks.

District spokeswoman Gail Pinkser said Friday, “The board expects to finalize a decision on its updated interdistrict permit policies at the next school board meeting.”

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