I am writing in response to a letter published on February 22nd, 2021. This letter was originally intended for the SMMUSD and Dr. Drati – however a local father decided to share it with the Santa Monica Daily Press as well.

The letter written by Mr. Torkamani documents what he feels are failures of the SMMUSD during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a father of two young children, this letter made me feel a lot of emotions and none of them are particularly good.

No two families will have the same pandemic story. We are all in this horrible thing together and yet we are all isolated from each other (or at least should be). Our school district is made up of hundreds of families each with a different set of circumstances in these insane times. This includes our incredible teachers, board members and other staff members – many of whom have their own children enrolled in local schools. I do not know Mr. Torkamani nor do I know his family or pretend to understand their quarantine experience. What I do know is that it is not just his kids who are struggling. Literally everyone is struggling.

While Mr. Torkamani is welcome to his beliefs and opinions, not all parents share these feelings. In fact based on my experience over the last year, I would say that he is part of a very small yet extremely vocal minority.

I will allow the words found in Mr. Torkamani’s letter to stand on their own. However I fully disagree that SMMUSD has failed their students. In fact I feel SMMUSD has done the exact opposite and even Mr. Torkamani’s quote of one of their bylaws proves this point.

“The Board of Education believes that its primary responsibility is to act in the best interests of every student in the district.”

It is clear that Mr. Torkamani is trying to look out for the best interests of his family and that is a respectable quality in a parent. However SMMUSD doesn’t exist to only serve his family; they have a responsibility to serve all of us. If there was one simple solution to educate thousands of kids in the middle of an ever evolving global pandemic, I have no doubt that SMMUSD would have executed this plan months ago. The goal has always been to re-open schools. Not even SMMUSD could have predicted that Los Angeles County would be one of the hardest hit areas on planet Earth. Reopening schools prior to March 15th even if only to serve the “coalition of the willing” as suggested by Mr. Torkamani would have not only hurt our children, this would have caused more pain and suffering across our entire community.

500,000 Americans have lost their lives because of Covid 19. That is 500,000 Americans who won’t be there to sponsor a jog-a-thon or watch the next generation walk across a stage and get a diploma before moving onto their next adventure in life. All of us want our children back in school, but even the CDC has declared as recently as December 2020 that kids can indeed catch and spread Covid-19. Some families in our community are essential workers with limited access to child care. Some are taking care of high-risk elderly family members. Some are high-risk themselves. There are countless configurations of the challenges each family faces during this extraordinary event. We cannot let go of our empathy for the challenges that all members of our community are managing right now and that includes the SMMUSD.

Where I can’t speak for Franklin — Will Rogers and SMMUSD has done a fantastic job of communicating to us their thought process in trying to come up with a smart and safe solution to educate our children in this challenging time. They truly took the time to listen to all input from a wide range of families who are united in struggling day in and day out with distance learning. I know our teachers and staff spent their summer break coming up with numerous game plans ready to pivot and change course depending on where the pandemic collectively took us. Chromebooks have been provided to a majority of students as well as WiFi hotspots for internet access. Meals are still being provided to kids who need them on a daily basis and a few of the kids in my daughters class who are struggling the most are now able to attend remote school in a classroom on the Grant campus. These incredible things are all happening because SMMUSD fulfilled their promise to act in the best interest of ALL students.

Pandemic parenting is far from easy but I have found that one of the hidden blessings of quarantine is how much more time I get with my kids. I am touching up on my cursive skills, learned about a man named Alfred L. Cralle who changed the Ice Cream game as we know it and I got to watch NASA land their latest rover on MARS together with my kids. How incredible is that? Everyone associated with SMMUSD who has given countless hours no doubt struggling themselves in order to help all of our kids in the middle of a global crisis deserves a massive thank you from all of us. Along with so many other front line workers they are truly heroes and I hope that once we get past this dark time we never forget their contributions to our community and society.

Justin Watt, Santa Monica