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

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District continued discussions on students’ return to school this fall semester in an effort to clarify any questions parents may have in regards to the upcoming semester of distance learning.

Board members and dozens of residents gathered online via Zoom Tuesday for a special meeting of the board that lasted nearly 4 hours. The conversation was a continuation of the meeting held in the prior week, where the SMMUSD’s board of education announced it intended to have students use a distance learning format when they “return” to class on Aug. 20.

During the meeting, district leaders and the board shared they hope students will be able to eventually make their way back to campus in some capacity prior to the end of the year, but, for now, a distance-learning format is the best option for all parties involved.

“This is a start — distance learning — but we plan to eventually, when the circumstances allow, be back because we all know that’s probably the best situation for everyone,” Superintendent Ben Drati said during the special meeting. “I want people to understand that we’re going to talk in a macro-sense,” because there is so much to do between now and the opening of school.

“I’m saying that because if people are going to ask questions about what is specifically taking place at Lincoln or Franklin — right now, we won’t have that answer,” Drati said. “But we will have an answer about what is happening in seventh- and eighth-grade. What’s happening in high school. What’s happening in elementary,” but details about individual schools will come sometime in the near future.

Drati invited Jacqueline Mora, SMMUSD’s assistant superintendent of Educational Services, to speak about the expectations that have been set forth by school administrators, counselors, nurses, and teachers who participated in the various reopening plan discussions, which originally began back in May.

“We have been engaging in this process around highlighting best practices and learning from our success in order to best address the areas of growth that were identified not only by our families and students but by our teachers as practitioners who are continuously seeking to grow and learn and expand their practice,” Mora said, detailing how the district’s teaching groups have been partly responsible for delineating expectations across grade levels that correspond to the state’s standards.

“We continue to engage, and refine and clarify what the expectations are,” but working group participants have attempted to provide schools with a common weekly schedule so sites can then formulate exactly what their day-to-day schedules will look like as long as they meet certain criteria and expectations, Mora said, detailing how live instruction is now something that will occur daily.

She also shared during her presentation that the district hopes students and teachers will incorporate independent learning projects, performance tasks and common assessments that will monitor student learning and progress throughout the Fall.

“As we think about the information these assessments give to us, we also have to begin to plan and coordinate how we will be addressing the learning loss and providing extra supports for our special populations,” Mora said, before Drati later described parents as equal partners in the venture to support students.

“Everyone is struggling with the pandemic — the staff, the parents, the whole community — and this is a nightmare but we are resilient people,” Drati said, but many hands make light work.

“That is how we do this,” the superintendent said, “as a team. If we do that, then we will be successful.”