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Scott Steepleton, Editor
1:52 pm PDT March 23, 2021

With Los Angeles County and state of California public health officials now endorsing reducing distance between students from 6 to 3 feet, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and its teachers union are urgently negotiating the ever-changing rules governing the return of students.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Ben Drati sent a letter to the school community saying 6 feet will still be required between teachers and students, “and during times such as while eating and drinking when a mask is temporarily removed.”

In the classroom, however, following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students need only be 3 feet apart.

It was only about three weeks ago that seating for Malibu elementary students was reconfigured indoors and out to reflect the 6-foot mandate.

Based on successful school reopenings around the country that showed 3 feet was a safe distance as long as masks were being worn, CDC updated its guidance, cutting the space requirement between students in half.

L.A. County Public Health adopted the recommendation on March 19, followed by the state on March 20.

While mask wearing and frequent hand washing and sanitizing will be required, students now can be closer to one another than when they set foot on campus for the first time March 15.

“As we prepare SMMUSD for a full return to in-person school, we are faced with many details to finalize,” Drati says. “This is what our negotiating teams continue to work on with urgency right now.”

The district and Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association have been working “to adapt to this new guidance,” says the superintendent.

Over the spring break, he adds, facilities crews will move furniture back into classrooms.

“We expect to have an update by Friday as to what is planned for the return from spring break on April 12.”

Everyone is hard at work “creating the best and safest educational programs for all students and return to full-time school as quickly as possible,” says Drati, adding distance learning will still be an option for families.

A survey will go out soon that Drati says “will help us finalize our plans for full return.”