Closed: The two-school campus could become a merged facility when it reopens in 2024. Grace Inez Adams

The future of the former John Muir Elementary and Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) campus in Ocean Park seems more uncertain than ever after last week’s Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Board meeting, during which the possibility that the campus could reopen as one “unified” school instead of two was introduced.

The campus has been closed since summer of this year to allow for significant repairs and remodeling to address extensive water intrusion damage and is expected to re-open in August 2024.

Board Members and Superintendent Ben Drati discussed the matter at the Nov. 17 meeting in response to a resolution brought before the Board to affirm that there “will be a neighborhood school” at the location.

“There is a neighborhood school there already but it’s shared with another alternative ed school,” Drati said. “What we’re saying with this resolution is that we’re committing that there will always be a neighborhood school there, but the question is whether we’re going to continue the same process of having two schools or one school.”

While members agreed on the definition of a neighborhood school as one that gives “preference to attend” to children living within close proximity to the school, they expressed differing views and understandings as to what exactly that will look like. 

“Part of the conversation would be that it’s actually a unified school, that it is not two distinct, separate entities of any kind — that it is a unified school to meet all kids’ needs,” Board Member Jennifer Smith said.

Board Member Laurie Lieberman said that had not been her understanding of the situation, but was not immediately opposed to the possibility.

“Not that I have a problem with it being one school, but I didn’t know that we ever discussed that or agreed about that,” she said. “It seems to be one possible outcome.”

She urged her fellow Board Members to be open to various possibilities for the campus and what type of school would best meet the needs of the community and acknowledged that students from other areas will likely attend as well.

“I mean maybe it will be exactly as it was, but maybe it will become an immersion school or a performing arts school or a STEM school, or an engineering school — it could be anything,” she said. “I just want to say that the discussions should be open to what could serve that neighborhood and will probably have to serve more than that only because of the numbers of students, at least right now, in that neighborhood.”

The resolution came before the Board following expressions of concern and anger from some parents about how the situation was being handled by the district. It includes a clause stating that a committee of Muir and SMASH parents and staff will be formed to “discuss programs and opportunities for the neighborhood school,” putting in writing something Drati has verbally committed to from the beginning.

“The committee will be formed so the discussion is going to be had with all of the parents of the students that will be attending the school or schools,” Board President Maria Leon-Vasquez said. 

“Let the process take its course, that’s the best way,” Smith added, to which all members present agreed.

The Board unanimously approved the resolution with a vote of 5-0. Board Member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein was not present at the meeting.

grace@smdp.com