Plans to reopen the shuttered Muir/SMASH campus are on pace to have students return for the 2024 school year but some parents are raising doubts over the future of the school site.
Several dozen parents, students and other community members gathered outside the district headquarters to demand transparency and accountability in regards to the campus repair process last week.
Among the rally’s organizers were several School Board candidates including Miles Warner and Angela DiGaetano, who are running as part of a slate of four challengers hoping to unseat incumbents in the upcoming Nov. 8 election.
“Our beloved John Muir Elementary has long been underfunded, under-resourced and neglected by the SMMUSD. Despite this inequitable treatment, the parents, teachers and students, with the support of our local neighborhood, have built John Muir into a vibrant and unique learning community — a true neighborhood school,” said Muir parent TJ Hill in a statement before the meeting. “After years of facility neglect, our school was unceremoniously taken from us in a process that served to confuse, disempower and disenfranchised the members of our community, many of whom are already marginalized. We have had enough of the inequitable treatment, broken promises and vague plans for the future of our school. We implore Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati and the SMMUSD Board of Education to commit to a defined and purposeful plan to rebuild and reopen John Muir Elementary as a fully resourced neighborhood school — to bring equity to a community that has for too long been ignored.”
The school was closed this summer following the discovery of extensive water damage and mold.
Following the closure of the campus, the district’s plan to reshuffle students sparked indignation and claims of discrimination from parents. The shuttered campus was also home to the Santa Monica Alternative School House(SMASH) and, while the SMASH community was kept intact and relocated to another nearby campus, John Muir – a Title 1 school with a primarily minority student body – students and staff were dispersed between different schools throughout the district.
District officials have said that the campus will reopen in Fall 2024, but some parents have expressed doubt that this will be the case and distrust in the district’s handling of the situation.
Inside the building at the board meeting, Superintendent Ben Drati said that the process is moving ahead on schedule and directly addressed concerns the school will not reopen.
“That is not the case at all,” he said. “In all my documents, presentations, conversations, I’ve always maintained that there will be a neighborhood school there.”
He added that he will be soliciting formal input from the community on the future of the campus in coming months.
“I’m going to be commissioning a committee of Muir and SMASH parents and staff to engage in that conversation,” he said.
SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton told the board construction plans are on track and that DTR, the company the district has contacted with to carry out the repairs, was onsite last week. He added that the district has an upcoming meeting with the Division of State Architects this month which will help them to get a better idea of the exact timeline for the project.
“At this time we do think we’ll be able to start construction in April,” he said. “You’ll see a contract for pre-construction services either in December or January… We do believe we are still on track to have the school ready and open for August 2024.”
The principals of Will Rogers and Grant Elementary, the two schools that took in the most Muir students, also spoke at the meeting about integrating the Muir community into their schools. A process which they said they feel has so far been a successful one.
“The feedback that I’ve received from our families who have come from Muir is that they are happy to be at Grant despite having to leave, if only temporarily, their beloved Muir school,” Grant Principal Christian Fuhrer said.
Drati said he still acknowledges the challenges and frustration of some in the community.
“This is not to say there are no families who are still not missing or angry out there,” he said. “I just want to say in general we are seeing that the majority of families are pretty much happy at where they are right now.”
*Correction: Muir is one of five Title 1 schools in the district.