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On Aug. 13 the school board approved the Memorandum of Understanding reached between SMMUSD and the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association regarding protocol for the 2020-2021 school year. The MOU outlines plans for professional development, expectations for distance teaching, and requirements for the resumption of in-person instruction.

Two days will be added to the school year in order to provide training for teachers on distance learning platforms and teaching methods. As a result, the instructional school year will begin on Aug. 24 and finish on June 11, 2021. To make sure parents fully understand distance learning expectations the Back to Learning Parent/Guardian Conference has been moved up to Aug. 21.

In order for in-person instruction to resume the county will need to be off the state monitoring list for 14 consecutive days and the district must fulfill the requirements of the LA Department of Public Health’s Reopening Protocols for K-12 Schools. During distance learning teachers are allowed to work from school facilities or at home and will be online 230 to 240 minutes a day.

This MOU is the result of months of discussion between teachers and district officials to develop clear yet flexible expectations for the fall.

“The next step is for our principals to take the teaching and learning agreements and adapt them to their site specific needs and quickly communicate that to parents,” said Jon Kean, the School Board President. “There is a commitment in the teaching and learning agreements for regular communications to parents about what each subsequent week will look like.”

Teachers have committed to providing a summary of what learning will look like each week for students and their families. In addition, the district will be releasing a distance learning guide for families next week. Still, there was some concern raised in the board meeting over how easy it will be for parents to understand the upcoming semester and communicate with the school.

“One suggestion is that we have a distance learning hotline,” said board member Oscar de la Torre. “Sometimes it will be hard to connect with a teacher, but if there was a hotline you can call if you are having connectivity problems or just any type of issues that families or students might be facing, it can streamline some of that information.”

An additional concern brought up in the meeting is how the MOU addresses accountability for students’ participation. The MOU stipulates that sessions cannot be recorded, so students will need to be online on time in order to receive live instruction.

“We are responsible for monitoring attendance for all students and maintaining records of work completion and participation during live instruction,” said Jaqueline Mora, Assistant Superintendent. “If students are not participating, we are responsible for reaching out to families and ensuring that the support staff within the school site is also aware so we can continue to do additional outreach.”

The last key concern raised regarding the MOU was whether the two additional days of professional development is enough to adequately prepare teachers for the upcoming semester.

“We are confident that we will be able to provide support to our teachers, not only prior to the first day of school, but even during the school day,” said Mora. “So on Tuesdays and Thursdays we will be providing 90 minute sessions for either secondary or elementary teachers to delve deeper into topics of interest. They will have an opportunity to receive input, plan and collaborate together to design lessons, go back and implement, and then return the following week to share best practices.”

The MOU acknowledges that SMMUSD is in uncharted territory and that the impact of COVID-19 is constantly shifting. The agreement is based on currently available knowledge and best practices may be adapted as the school year progresses.

“I would advise everybody that we are a learning organization and need to stay in constant communication” said Dr. Ben Drati, Superintendent. “We want to set into place formal check-ins on how we are doing on a regular basis. But for you parents out there, please continue to meet with your teachers as well as your principals, as things are working or not working for you. They are more than willing to work with you in making sure that whatever you need is accomplished.”

clara@smdp.com