The 2021-22 school year officially ends on Thursday but many local families are wondering what their children’s’ educational experience will look like come fall, after the local school district released a bombshell study detailing major water intrusion, rot, insect damage and mold on the campus of John Muir Elementary and the Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) in Ocean Park.

But complaints over perceived inequity abounded at a recent Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education meeting, after the District announced plans that would keep the SMASH student body intact while partially dispersing John Muir students across various elementary schools around Santa Monica.

Implications go far beyond the Muir/SMASH campus, which houses classrooms for about 550 students in preschool through eighth grade, since other local schools will be called upon to welcome additional students in the fall. Because of this reshuffling, the District’s plans will necessitate moving a couple hundred high school and adult education students off of the current Olympic/PBL campus to make room for the changes.

On Monday, June 6, the SMMUSD School Board held a special meeting, in part to discuss various options for where to send students currently enrolled at the contaminated campus.

At the end of two hours of discussion, the Board unanimously decided to direct staff to move all approximately 330 SMASH students from their current location — 2526 6th Street in Ocean Park — to the Olympic High School campus, officially known as the Michelle and Barack Obama Center for Inquiry and Exploration, at Ocean Park Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard. Students currently enrolled on that campus, which includes Olympic High School, plus the Samohi Project Based Learning (PBL) Pathway, will be moved to the Santa Monica College Pico Classroom Campus, pending a formal agreement with SMC.  Adult education programs will be moved to John Adams or Lincoln middle schools.

But the plan was a little less clear-cut when it came to John Muir’s campus.

John Muir has an enrollment of about 230 students, of which about half live in the neighborhood and the other half have permits to attend the school. Muir is a Title I school; according to the U.S. Department of Education: “Schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment are eligible to use Title I funds to operate schoolwide programs that serve all children in the school in order to raise the achievement of the lowest-achieving students.”

The SMMUSD plan will see the majority of the John Muir student body, some 150 students, relocate to the Will Rogers Elementary campus, with the remaining 50-70 students moving to other elementary schools on a first come, first served basis. 

At the meeting, several parents suggested the plan amounted to “discrimination against Muir.”

John Muir fifth grade teacher Kim Griffin told the Board she felt strongly the campus community should be permitted to stay intact.

“I feel that this community is not being treated equitably,” Griffin said. 

She also raised a point echoed by several parents — the prediction that, once the Muir/SMASH campus is closed down to deal with current water intrusion issues, John Muir as we know it will never return.

“If our kids leave John Muir, John Muir is done,” one father said. “Dr. Drati knows that.”

This sentiment appeared to be illustrated in results the District provided from a short survey distributed to parents on Friday. Out of 139 responses from Muir families and educators, 57.6 percent responded that they would like to stay on campus, “provided the District can Ensure that the Muir/SMASH facilities are acceptable (‘safe’) to occupy and have consistent testing.” 

Among 257 SMASH responses, 82.9 percent opted to leave campus, with the promise of relocating to the Obama Center.

However, District representatives determined the campus would be shuttered beginning this summer and throughout the process, which they estimated could take two to four years.

“From my perspective, I just think having students on that campus would be fraught with issues,” Superintendent Ben Drati said at one point in the hearing.

District staff said there would “always be a neighborhood school” on the campus, but there was no specific guarantee that would take the form of what is currently John Muir Elementary. Staff also pledged that no John Muir or SMASH staff would be laid off — ”all staff will have positions,” SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton said.

SMMUSD spokesperson Gail Pinsker wrote in an email that the District would be sending out a letter on Wednesday to Muir families “offering tours at Will Rogers and other SM schools, along with instructions on submitting an intradistrict application if they want to move to a school other than Rogers.” 

While the plan was unanimously approved, details were still being worked out, with action items set to come before the School Board in coming weeks.

emily@smdp.com