Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Jack Simon
Observer Staff Writer 

SMMUSD Chief 'Committed to In-Person Instruction' This Fall

CDC Recommendations Say Teacher Vaccination Not Prerequisite for Reopening of Schools

 

February 17, 2021

File Photo

First day of Kindergarten at Franklin Elementary School, 2017.

The Santa Monica-Malibu School District has announced that it is "committed to in-person instruction as our priority for the fall" as the Center for Disease Control just released its guidance for reopening schools during this pandemic.

In an email to parents, Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati said the local school district is planning for 2021-22 school year "with the expectation that our students will back in campus learning in-person to the greatest extend possible. We say this with the understanding that unforeseen events have altered our plans in the past."

The superintendent said that he expects the staff to be vaccinated by the end of summer, if not sooner. "We are finalizing plans with St. John's Medical Center to offer vaccination clinics for our staff when Phase 1B is initiated," he added.

Drati reported that many of the district's nurses, health assistants and special education personnel have already received their first doses in the earlier phase of the vaccination program. And last Wednesday, Los Angeles County Public Health officials announced that food workers, first responders and teachers could begin receiving vaccines by the first week of March when Phase 1B begins.

As for inoculating students, Drati didn't offer a timeline.

"According to statements from the federal government, portions of the student body may be vaccinated by fall," he said. "Currently, none of the available vaccines are approved for students under age 16. Additionally, the science continues to develop with respect to transmissibility among students of different ages."

Last Friday, the CDC released guidelines to how to reopen and operate schools safely during the Covid-19 pandemic. The data-driven guidance expands on old recommendations and advise school leaders to "layer" the most effective safety precautions: masking, physical distancing, hand-washing, improving ventilation cleaning of facilities, and contact tracing.

The CDC recommendations say that teacher vaccination, while important, should not be considered a prerequisite for reopening shuttered schools.

"To enable schools to open safely and remain open, it's important to adopt and consistently implement actions to slow Covid-19 both in schools and the community," the CDC said. "It is critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible, and remain open, to achieve the benefits of in-person learning and key support services."

Drati said declining Covid-19 cases and a steady drop in the rate of infection will most likely put Los Angeles County into the less restrictive red or orange tier, which will allow schools to ramp up in-person programs. LA county, currently in the purple tier, can move to the red tier if it maintains 4 to 7 new daily cases per 100,000 people and 5% to 8% positive tests for 14 days. And that will enable it to reopen schools for in-person instruction, according to California Reopening Plan unveiled last week.

Governor Gavin Newsom has also proposed a plan that would allow elementary students to return to campus once the county case rate drops to 25 per 100,000. L.A. County's rate is currently 38 per 100,000.

"We will be submitting our safety plan outlining how we will adhere to the safety protocols established by the state and county health department," Drati wrote in the email. "Our safety plan describes in-person instruction and activities within the distance learning plus model."

File photo

Students at Lincoln Middle School moving a car used on stage.

The district is also preparing various scenarios that will reflect the different levels of in-person instruction and activities, depending on the pandemic realities, the superintendent said. One scenario calls for elementary school students to go back on campus for two full days a week. On the other three days, students would learn online in the mornings, and return to campus from 1-3 p.m.

Another scenario calls for half of the student body to return to campus on a rotating schedule. Some students will go in the morning while others in the afternoon, or on alternative days and weekly basis. All the scenarios and structures have been developed with the help of staff, parents and representative groups, the superintendent said.

"The opening of schools in the fall for in-person experiences/instruction will be a logical

extension/culmination of our ever-expanding distance learning plus model which will begin in all

schools once infection rates meet the threshold for a safe rollout," Drati said.

 

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