After much discussion, study and surveys, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education has voted to support its staff recommendation to ease into in-person learning when Los Angeles County Health restrictions relax and stay-at-home recommendations are lifted.
With COVID-19 case rates at their highest levels since the pandemic began, public schools are currently operating mostly online with very few in-person services only for special education, English learner students and athletic conditioning. But the local school district has been working on a plan that will allow a limited number of in-person activities on campuses once the county drops from its most restrictive Tier 1 (purple) to less restrictive Tier 2 (red) phase. With coronavirus vaccines already being administered to frontline medical workers and teachers likely to be in the next wave of inoculations, the district is poised for its hybrid learning model called Distance Learning Plus (DL+). Under best conditions, the district is hoping DL+ could commence in February. This can only happen if the county case rate drops and stays in Tier 2 (red) for two consecutive weeks.
According to the SMMUSD, DL+ is a continuation of how students have been receiving their instruction this fall, with a “plus” being the addition of some on-campus activities. In secondary schools, these activities could include support for students who are falling behind in an academic and/or social emotional aspect. There might be gatherings for sports, art, music, drama or special class projects. In elementary schools, on-site learning may include what the district termed “social emotional learning, outdoor fitness activity, labs, hands-on project blocks, interventions and accelerated learning activities.”
Under the DL+ model, students would stay in the same classrooms with the same teachers, “as is a high priority for families and teachers, based on our recent survey.” Safety protocols including six-foot physical distancing would be practiced.
“We realize that most everyone believes the best learning environment is to have all students back on campus, as was the case prior to this pandemic forcing the shut-down of in-person learning,” Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati said in a statement provided by the district. “We also recognize that this is a very sensitive and emotional topic with highly divergent views regarding the timing of returning to school. DL+ is the model I believe provides the most harmonious approach to educating our students once LA County moves into the red tier, with the implementation of all health and safety protocols.
“DL+ allows us the opportunity to manage the anxiety, fears and safety concerns of all stakeholders until the end of the 2020-21 school year,” the superintendent continued. “This model also provides a great opportunity to be flexible and adaptable to any need to ramp up or slow down in-person activities, as we navigate this highly unpredictable pandemic environment. This affords our school administrators and teachers the ability to maintain a solid sense of continuity of academic instruction and support, while maintaining health and safety.”
As conditions improve, the district plans to expand on-site learning based on staff and family interests and needs. SMMUSD spokespeople wrote it was planning for a “full and safe return to schools in fall 2021 based on LA County guidelines, vaccine effectiveness and community behaviors regarding stopping the spread of COVID-19.”