Lots of options — none of them great. 

That’s the reality the local school district is grappling with following a report of extensive mold issues and other water damage at the John Muir Elementary / Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) campus. Now, weeks after the report was first released on May 17, administrators are scrambling to investigate the extent of the issues on the campus, located at 2526 6th Street, and make plans for how to remediate, renovate and/or replace affected buildings.

In the interim, students from preschool through eighth grade will need to be reshuffled, either onto other campuses, into portable classrooms or grouped into some campus buildings while others are worked on.

“First up, what I want to say is there is no great option,” Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Chief Operations Officer Cary Upton said during a meeting with parents on Wednesday, June 1. “There’s no one [option] that everybody goes and says, ‘That’s great. That’s it. Everything’s perfect.’ All of them have challenges.”

According to recent statements by district officials, major dry rot, insect damage and water intrusion issues at the campus could have ripple effects that could affect some 850 or more students come fall, as hundreds of students currently at the Muir/SMASH campus are relocated. Some potential options would see a shuffle of students around the District to make room for not only more kids, but different types of learning communities, on various campuses.

As of this week, it was not at all clear which option would be selected. Upton and SMMUSD Superintendent Ben Drati presented a slideshow of various scenarios to a group of a couple dozen parents who attended the information session, presenting some choices that they said off the bat would not work well. 

One plan that was not favorable to Drati and Upton was an option allowing Muir students to transfer to any of the District’s five other Santa Monica elementary schools, on a first come, first serve basis — except Edison Elementary, which they said did not have capacity.

“This idea’s been pretty much tossed out … just because it feels like the Muir community just gets scattered to the winds, and that doesn’t quite work,” Upton said of the potential plan, moving through the presentation.

So, what ideas might stick?

Upton said the District was “taking a real deep look at” an option that would move Muir students off campus but keep SMASH on the campus. Muir students would potentially move onto the Obama Center campus — the home of both Olympic High School and Samohi’s Project Based Learning (PBL) Pathway— causing the PBL program currently there to relocate to Samohi’s main campus or Santa Monica College. Olympic High School students would then move to Santa Monica College in that scenario, as would adult learners. Special education preschoolers on the SMASH/Muir campus would move to Washington West.

Another option Upton said was viable would be to split up Muir students between Will Rogers Elementary and Grant Elementary, with grades kindergarten through third going to Rogers, blending in with current Rogers students and grades four and five blending with Grant students. Teachers would also move over to maintain current class sizes.

Drati added that, in that scenario, students living in the immediate neighborhood of Muir, many of whom were accustomed to walking to school, would be offered transportation to new school sites.

One thing Drati sought to make clear was that, no matter what happens with the damage investigation, the Muir/SMASH campus would continue to be used as a school site following remediation and possible replacement of damaged buildings.

“I want to make sure it’s clear: There will always be a neighborhood school where that campus is,” Drati said. However, it was not immediately clear what that school might look like — whether it would remain the site of John Muir Elementary and the Santa Monica Alternative School House, whether one or both of those entities would relocate permanently, or some other option.

“The phase three conversation is whether we’re going to have one or two schools there,” Drati said. “There will be a neighborhood school, but we’ve got to have another conversation later on. And that’s going to come. I’m going to be very transparent about that conversation.”

The other major lingering question was cost, which was not touched upon during the presentation. Until the investigation is complete, the District has stated it will not know what the bill for the fix might come to.

Although it will be up to the District and, eventually, the SMMUSD Board of Education to determine what should be done, parents are being asked to weigh in through a survey.

“The challenge for us right now is to distill a survey that people are going to understand — these different mazes,” Drati said with a chuckle following the complicated — and at times disorganized — slide presentation. “We’re almost there.”

The District has provided three surveys for affected parents of students at Muir, SMASH and the PBL at the Obama Center to submit with their preferences, which were emailed out to affected campuses. There were no surveys available for Olympic parents or adult learners.

The SMMUSD School Board was set to discuss the issue at a special meeting scheduled for Monday, June 6. The agenda marked the hearing as a “discussion item,” meaning no decision would come from the board meeting. That meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday and can be joined via Zoom: (webinar ID: 853 8773 8812; passcode:  142101; call-in number: 669.900.6833). 

emily@smdp.com