SMMUSD and teacher union officials are nearing a deal that would allow Santa Monica elementary school students to make a return to school for in-person learning on March 15 with an expansion of in-class time after Spring Break (March 29 – April 9).

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association leaders said this week they are close to having an agreement, but neither Superintendent Ben Drati, Board President Jon Kean or union president Sarah Braff could speak about the matter during a public discussion Thursday since it would go against the good-faith negotiations that have been had so far.

Drati noted that all of their interests are aligned; there are simply some details that have to be worked out.

“I hope to make an announcement sometime this week that we have a tentative agreement, so we’ll keep plowing forward on that,” Drati said, mentioning the goal is to finish quickly so officials can jump into negotiations on how to open secondary schools in the district. “The way our current plan is based on the last agreement we have with SMMCTA is that we plan to reopen our schools on March 15. That’s coming up for elementary. And so, every elementary is feverishly preparing for that reopening.”

The proposal, as of Friday, is to get elementary students back on-campus using one of the models that each school site determined is best for them, Drati said as he detailed why individual school sites will have some flexibility in how they bring students back. However, all schools will aim for the same number of hours of in-person instruction no matter what hybrid model they opt to use.

“That’s going to take place starting March 15 for a couple of weeks, and then when we come back for spring break, there is the expectation, at least from my expectation, to ramp up to the fullest extent possible,” Drati said. “Right now, like I said, we’re in negotiations, and I can’t speak too much about that right now. But, I just want you to know that our desire, or my desire, is to ramp up by April 12, for elementary.”

Since SMMUSD submitted the necessary documents to the proper health officials, the local superintendent said he and his peers are now a day away from receiving an okay from the health department.

Board President Jon Kean was glad to hear the district and teachers’ union are close to concluding negotiations. “But I think I speak for a lot of people, not just the board, when I say we were all very hopeful that we would have the announcement (Thursday).”

Kean clarified the Board of Education has unanimously given direction that it would like to see an April 12, 2021 return utilizing a hybrid model that would also allow students to remain distance-learners if they had health problems that forced them to.

“We have been very clear with that and Dr. Drati has heard us… that’s as close to ‘wink, wink’ or any ‘nudge, nudge’ that I can do. I just want people to know that everybody is so hard at work right now,” Kean added.

“I don’t need to explain and no one needs to repeat what the transmissibility rates are now,” Board Vice President Laurie Lieberman said. “We’re all hoping that they just continue to get better and nothing changes for the worse. But we don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t know anyone who does. And so… based on the numbers, now, we’re planning to get kids back in school. We will obviously look toward the future to see how much more we can open our schools but it might be less depending on what happens.”

brennon@smdp.com