Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District offices (File photo)

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will begin next school year utilizing a distance-learning format, but district leaders retain hope that students will be able to return to school on a full-time basis once safer-at-home orders ease.

In an attempt to follow recent state and local health recommendations amidst a surge of Los Angeles County Covid-19 cases, district staff recommended SMMUSD adopt a model that calls for students to learn from the safety of their homes — and the board of education agreed Thursday when they unanimously voted to approve the district’s reopening plan for the Fall 2020 semester.

In recent weeks, the district has met with parents, students and staff at multiple town hall events to receive input on the best learning format for students when school begins in August.

A district survey answered by nearly 9,500 residents showed a large majority of locals wanted students to return to school on a full- or part-time basis beginning Aug. 20, in spite of the fact that Covid-19 outbreaks continue to increase and the school board is still meeting online.

“As you can see, the data is clear that our parents want students back in some form… We recognize that and we know that’s the best thing (for student learning). At the same time, we see that our staff is also very interested in returning.” Drati said during Thursday’s meeting. But the question remains: “Is it responsible?”

Drati explained the priorities for the district are student and staff safety, the quality of instruction and maintaining fiscal solvency, before discussing the rigorous protocols laid forth by LACOE and the state that schools must meet in order to open. The superintendent added SMMUSD tried to explain how impossible the standards are to meet but LACOE said there will be no exceptions made.

“As recently as Monday morning, we had plans to open under a hybrid model that would meet the needs of the families who prefer an in-class option,” but the county statistics and state guidance have led the district to opt to begin the year under a distance learning model, Drati added, sharing he has heard that the virus does not affect the youth and is only an issue for the elderly. “But what you see before you is data that contradicts that notion.”

“So with that — and with all of the inputs I mentioned before being factored in — staff recommends that we implement ‘Model C,’” Drati said, and begin the school year participating in a distance learning format until the district can meet the safety protocols laid out by Gov. Gavin Newsom and county education experts.

“We believe this is the best and the safest option… We believe our continuing efforts to improve upon our distance learning model will better meet our students’ needs, both academically and emotionally,” Drati said, mentioning he and district leaders intend to have further discussions with parents and district stakeholders detailing the specifics of what classroom learning will look like in the Fall.

Residents looking to stay up to date are encouraged to sign up for the community email group located at bit.ly/3eE4Jls.

brennon@smdp.com