Los Angeles County has reached the case count threshold to reopen elementary schools, however Santa Monica-Malibu schools are unlikely to be part of the immediate reopening push.

While some LA schools will bring students on campus next week, SMMUSD is in the same boat as LAUSD and other major districts as it awaits a finalized reopening agreement with the teachers union.

According to SMMUSD, the district has reached a tentative agreement allowing schools to reopen transitional kindergarten through 5th grade for ‘Distance Learning Plus’ activities 15 days after vaccines become available, in Phase 1b, for educators. The district’s safety plan must also be approved by the County.

“We’ve always supported these partnerships,” said County Health Director Barbara Ferrer, referring to union agreements. “I think that’s what makes it possible for schools to open with a lot of safety.”

The County estimates that it will begin vaccinating educators before the end of the month, meaning SMMUSD elementary school reopenings are likely four to six weeks away.

This rough timeline is subject to both the agreement ratification and vaccine supply. The district is coordinating with St. John’s Hospital to open a vaccine clinic so staff can be inoculated at one convenient location.

The district is currently offering limited in-person services for its highest need students including special education students and English language learners, under a separate union agreement reached in the fall.

Distance learning plus will look different at every elementary school and site-specific plans will be shared by principals soon. The plans will be flexible and allow schools to scale up activities as case counts, hopefully, continue to decrease.

“The goal of this agreement is to move forward in a way that will get our schools fully open for in-person instruction in a smart and safe manner and will address the needs of students, teachers and classified staff, and families,” said School Board President Jon Kean. “It is a scaffolded approach that starts the process for a full return to school (virus willing) in the fall, if not earlier.”

According to Superintendent Ben Drati there are two main models of distance learning plus being planned for elementary schools.

Some schools intend to bring students on campus for enrichment activities in the afternoon following the conclusion of their distance learning instructional periods. Other schools are looking at rotating students in by grade level for the full school day, likely one day a week to start.

The district will offer continued distance learning for families who do not want to return to in-person opportunities this spring.

“We all wish Covid wasn’t circulating and that we could be open fully in-person,” said Drati. “To me this is the best agreement we can get to support all the different stakeholders involved: students, parents, and staff.”

While L.A. County has hit the 25 cases per 100,000 residents reopening threshold for elementary schools, it has not yet reached the 7 cases per 100,000 residents threshold for secondary schools.

Secondary schools are also developing scalable distance learning plus plans to bring students on campus for activities such as labs, physical education, art programs, social emotional and extracurricular activities.

The district hopes to ratify its agreement with the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association within the next week.

“At this time I am unable to respond or comment until our leadership team meets with our members at an SMMCTA forum scheduled for tomorrow,” said SMMCTA President Sarah Braff.

Clara@smdp.com