Another year of distance learning is in the books, and with summer vacation barely starting, not many students have an eye on their return to school in August. But Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Ben Drati took some time this week to detail what next year will look like for scholars in the local district.

This time last year, SMMUSD was in the midst of preparing for in-person learning, but everything would suddenly change by August 2020 when students were forced to learn from home via Zoom after changes were made to Senate Bill 98. In the months since, COVID cases have decreased and the district held a board meeting this week where it renewed Emergency Resolution No. 20-02, which was first introduced nearly 11 months ago during the peak of the pandemic, for the final time.

“Things are looking pretty good in the state of California (and) across the nation, but particularly in California,” Drati said Thursday when he discussed the changing conditions of districts across the state and the restrictions that are still in place for K-12 education. “SB 98 is what gave school districts the authority to deviate and actually implement virtual learning. Prior to SB 98… schools were unable to have school virtually as we did; that sunsets on July 30 and with that, virtual instruction will not be permitted in the 2021-2022 school year. So, essentially, the state is pushing everybody towards saying that the default is in-person instruction. And any exception to that would have to be some kind of independent studies program.”

Drati added he expects the governor to sign the new Senate Bill soon. “So, that’s an area we’re watching very carefully,” Drati said, mentioning he intends to start a community conversation around the topic in the coming weeks. “We have a good description of our independent studies program that we would like to implement but I’m going start talking to family members, certain community members and different people to just kind of understand what their concerns and all that so that way we develop a strong program and are also able to explain that, when we come back, that we still have safety protocols in place and that the schools are safe. I think people need to hear that we are confident that our schools are going to be safe.”

Though social distance requirements are a mere recommendation and not a requirement, Drati noted the district retains the right to enforce regulations.

“In terms of masks, while inside the building, you still have to wear masks,” he added.

“Now, I know this is going to be a huge battle for us. I’m anticipating that, because I know some people are thinking, ‘Why am I able to go to the store and not wear masks — particularly for secondary students who are vaccinated. But, right now, that’s the current language. It says, ‘While inside staff and students have to be masked; outside you don’t.’”

Parents are encouraged to sign-up for SMMUSD’s newsletter if they wish to be informed about the specifics of independent study, which could see increased enrollment this year since some parents may want to keep students out of the class for an extended period.

“I want to reiterate that the State is telling us that there’s two forms of education where you can take ADA on and there’s not going to be any kind of fiscal repercussions if you do,” Drati said. The first is in-person traditional learning and the second is independent study.

“I said last year in July that SB 98 said we were going to have to be in person and there had to be some level of in-person instruction. And, all of a sudden, all of that changed in August, and then the state said we have to go full on to virtual learning. So, I guess I’m a little gun shy now,” Drati said. “I’m just saying this is what it is at this early stage… so, much more to come on that — SB 98 and what next year will look like.”

Other meeting items

SMMUSD also adopted its 2021-22 District Budget and Local Control Accountability Plan, which were discussed in detail during the district’s public hearing held on June 17. For a complete overview of the district’s financials and LCAP, visit smmusd.org.