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

In Thursday’s School Board meeting, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District discussed its Learning and Continuity Attendance Plan, which outlined a potential hybrid model for school reopening. The plan was presented against a backdrop of parents confused by the cancellation of a survey sent out last week that was intended to collect families’ opinions on returning to the classroom.

Under SMMUSD’s Learning and Continuity Attendance Plan, families would be able to choose between continuing distance learning or enrolling in a hybrid model combining in-person live instruction and remote asynchronous work. Elementary school families who opt for distance learning would continue in the same system, but secondary school students who continue remotely would be enrolled in a virtual learning academy, which would feature asynchronous work only and no live instruction.

Superintendent Ben Drati and School Board members stressed that this model is a preliminary plan subject to changing health requirements and community feedback, and that classrooms are not likely to reopen before January.

“The Board has not given any direction on a hybrid learning model. We will be able to explore any option moving forward until proven unfeasible,” said Jon Kean, a member of the School Board. “We can explore anything at this point and we have not decided on anything yet. We will still be driven by the limitations of health departments, but we will not be limited by our imaginations.”

The rush to present a model for school reopening was based on the government requirement that every California school district submit a Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan by Sept. 30.

The District is still in the process of soliciting more feedback from the community and sent out a survey on Sept. 10 to gauge parent preferences on a potential return to in-person instruction. According to a Sept. 11 letter from the Superintendent, the survey caused alarm among some parents as it did not clarify that these options will only be considered once the County clears the next stage of reopening.

The survey was canceled and is planned to be re-released in a clearer format at a later date. Superintendent Drati offered an apology and explanation of the snafu during Thursday’s board meeting.

“We recognize that people are still focused on improving distance learning, but we at the District office were three or four steps ahead trying to figure out what we do next. So that’s where the confusion lay and that’s why I pulled it. It does not mean we don’t continue to engage in this conversation. We need to bring everybody on the same page before we start processing what the next steps are going to be,” said Drati.

SMMUSD staff members are currently juggling work on improvements to distance learning, preparations for bringing a limited number of students with special learning needs on campus, and plans for an eventual reopening of classrooms.

From Sept. 14 onwards L.A. County schools are allowed to bring a limited number of English-language learners and students with special needs on campus. SMMUSD has applied for permission to run these programs and is developing a plan to safely bring cohorts of 12 students into the classroom.

As per state requirements, SMMUSD will not be allowed to pursue further reopening until the County passes from the “purple” tier of COVID-19 transmission into the “red” tier. This requires the County maintains a test positivity rate of less than 8 percent and a new daily case rate between 4 and 7 people per 100,000 residents for fourteen consecutive days.