One month remains before “moving day” at John Muir Elementary School in Ocean Park, when classrooms will be packed up to prepare for invasive remediation to begin on the water damaged campus, also home to SMASH (Santa Monica Alternative School House).
But whereas the SMASH school community is moving en masse to the current Olympic High School campus just up the street, John Muir students are dissipating — while about 150 pupils head to Will Rogers Elementary, some 60 other students will go to Franklin, Roosevelt, Grant or McKinley elementary schools.
The move comes as the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) clambers to resolve serious facilities issues at the 26-year-old campus that include water and insect damage and mold. Currently, School District leadership estimates the campus will be vacant for at least two years as issues are investigated and buildings are repaired or replaced.
As the 2021-22 school year wound down, parents of John Muir students were informed that, although most students would move to Will Rogers, they would have the option of requesting an intradistrict transfer to any of the SMMUSD’s nine other elementary schools. Just 32 students took the offer, Superintendent Ben Drati told the School Board in June, meaning the District was left with the task of deciding which 30 students would end up elsewhere.
District administrators decided students who were themselves attending John Muir through an interdistrict permit — meaning they do not live in the neighborhood of John Muir — would be the ones to lose their spots at Will Rogers and be placed elsewhere.
Drati offered an update on the John Muir situation during the Thursday, June 30, school board meeting, providing further information one week later in a Superintendent’s Message released July 7.
“We have worked to provide families with their first choice in placement; however, due to school and class enrollment, we might not have been able to provide a family’s first choice. We understand the needs of our families, and we are working with on a case-by-case basis for the optimal placement,” Drati wrote in his July 7 emailed message. “This is a process, and we are doing all we can to ensure a place for every student. Families attending Muir through an interdistrict permit have been assigned a placement based on space availability at one of the Santa Monica area schools other than Will Rogers. We are pleased that we are able to provide space within SMMUSD for all previously enrolled Muir families to continue within our District.”
One solution Drati identified was adding an additional class of fourth-graders to Grant Elementary, as that grade level presented, in his words, “a higher level of student placement concerns than any other grade.” The solution would mean Muir fourth graders who move to Grant would eventually meet back up with their classmates placed at Will Rogers when they enter sixth grade at John Adams Middle School, which is fed by students from both schools.
One additional wrinkle involves new residents to the neighborhood and parents with young kids preparing to start kids in the fall — with Muir Elementary closed and Will Rogers and Grant nearing capacity, any additional families will likely be placed at a school outside the immediate neighborhood. Families in that situation should email email@example.com to begin that process.
Addressing the School Board in June, Drati acknowledged parents’ dissatisfaction with having their children separated from classmates, but said District leadership was doing “their best” in what he called a “tough situation.”
That frustration was also apparent at the John Muir campus, where signs protesting the dissolution of the school community were still taped to campus gates in July.
“Equity Matters,” one sign read. Another: “Save John Muir Elementary School.”
John Muir parents who would like to reach out directly to the District about the process can do so by visiting www.smmusd.org/Superintendent and selecting “Muir Transition.”
More information about the investigation and remediation on the John Muir/SMASH campus is expected at the next School Board meeting on July 21.
*Editor’s note: The story was updated to clarify references to interdistrict permits and intradistrict permits. It was also updated to indicate new families in the neighborhood around John Muir, Will Rogers and Grant would likely attend a school outside their immediate neighborhood for the next year or two if those schools close (in the case of John Muir) or reach capacity.