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Superintendent Ben Drati has released a 10-point scale representing the return of in-person instruction in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Scott Steepleton, Editor
9:25 am PST February 11, 2021

Schools Superintendent Ben Drati says students in Malibu could be on campus come fall, “as we make our way from the current distance learning model with limited campus services, all the way to full reopening as we knew before the pandemic.”

His plan for 2021-22 in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District makes three assumptions before school starts:

  • All staff will be vaccinated by summer’s end;

  • Some students will be vaccinated, although none of the available vaccines are approved for people under 16;

  • Los Angeles County drops to, at minimum, the red tier in the governor's Blueprint to a Safer Economy — the second least restrictive of the four tiers — “allowing schools to ramp up in-person programs.”

At the same time, Drati acknowledges in a statement laying out his goals, “that unforeseen events have altered our plans in the past.”

Teacher buy-in will be necessary for Drati’s proposal to succeed. To that end, principals have spent the past several weeks with staff and parents developing “structures and schedules” for what's being called distance learning plus activities and instruction. The path, as Drati sees it, is a scale reflecting the different levels of in-person activities “all the way to full reopening as we knew before the pandemic.”

“I’m pleased with the progress they are making,” Drati said. “I have seen different variations of plus activities with students on campus once or more per week.”

The real sell is with the union representing teachers, and the superintendent is meeting with groups from every campus this week, with the goal of establishing agreements with bargaining units over the next two weeks.

Teachers have been pushing for, among other things, the opportunity to be vaccinated before students return to campus.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President Biden’s pick to run the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last week said during a White House briefing on the pandemic that increasing data suggests “schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated.”

“Vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools,” she added.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who faces possible recall over his handling of the pandemic in the state, hailed Walensky’s comments, a spokesperson saying, “The science, reaffirmed by the Biden administration, is that schools can be safe learning and working environments with the right safety measures in place.” 

But in a sign of just how contentious the opening of schools has become under the new administration, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki later in the day said Dr. Walensky was speaking “in her personal capacity.”

Drati said he’s confident that distance learning plus “will provide our students with in-person experiences both academic and social-emotional with the flexibility to adapt easily to the unpredictable health crisis we are all navigating right now.”

“Distance learning plus has started with limited services and will expand as the health environment improves, providing a model with the least disruption and student engagement.”