As L.A. County approaches the new case count threshold for elementary school reopening, SMMUSD is working with the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association and SEIU to reach an updated agreement for in-person programming.

Under new regulations from Governor Newsom, schools can reopen TK through Grade 5 when County case counts reach 25 per 100,000 residents — with or without a teachers union agreement.

L.A. County is on track to pass this threshold in the coming weeks, however Superintendent Ben Drati does not currently intend to reopen for live instruction without agreements in place. The district currently offers some in-person services to special education, English learners and other groups.

“I don’t want to have to do what Chicago did. That is no good for anyone,” said Drati. Chicago Public Schools cancelled their reopening plan on Jan. 26 because their teachers union refused to send its members to work and the two parties are currently engaged in an acrimonious dispute.

Instead Drati is working closely with school administrators, teachers, and parents to develop site specific plans in the next two weeks for as much in-person programming as can be agreed upon within the ‘Distance Learning Plus’ framework.

Students will have the opportunity to come to campus for in-person instruction, labs, physical education, art programs, social emotional and extracurricular activities. The frequency per week may vary by school.

“The principals are working feverishly with their school site communities to develop these plans,” said Drati. “Some schools will have activities or instruction one or more days per week. Smaller schools are more nimble, meaning they can rotate students faster, whereas the schools with higher enrollment have more of a challenge.”

Drati is also developing a partnership with Saint John’s Hospital for staff vaccination clinics as soon as they become eligible. L.A. County Department of Public Health predicts that this will begin in February and all teachers and staff will be offered at least one dose by the end of March.

“Teachers are looking out not only for the health of our members, but for that of our students and community. We know how hard this is for everyone, but the health and safety of every person that walks onto a campus should be our number one priority,” said SMMCTA President Sarah Braff. “Getting the vaccine into our teachers and staff would make efforts to return possible, by giving staff the opportunity to review the safety plans and procedures.”

Once teachers and staff are vaccinated, SMMUSD intends to scale up distance learning plus to include additional in-person instruction and activities following all safety protocols. For grades 6 through 12 this requires the County reach a case count of seven or less per 100,000 residents.

For some parents this is not soon enough. A coalition of community members have launched Open Up SMM Schools — a campaign calling on the District to reopen as much as they are allowed to in accordance with scientific advice.

“Our community — teachers and administrators as well as parents and families — is growing increasingly bewildered at the reluctance of our district leaders to formulate a reopening plan in accordance with clear scientific advice and the urgent needs of our students,” said Harriet Fraser, parent and doctor, and one of four coalition co-founders. “We need a unified voice pushing for science and reason to win out over fear and division.”

The District is well aware of the campaign and Drati meets regularly with the parent leaders and other concerned community members.

Drati also meets frequently with the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association and SEIU and is working to develop an updated reopening agreement within the next two weeks.

“I have the vantage point of being in a room with teachers who are fearful. I also have a vantage point of being with parents who are fearful,” said Drati “We understand and are listening to all stakeholders and I hope that for our humanity we can find a way to move forward and I am confident that distance learning plus with the flexibility to ramp up is the way.”

Clara@smdp.com