May 28, 2020

To the MBUSD Community,

With two weeks to go until summer break, our schools are finalizing promotion plans for this highly unusual year. Our elementary schools are considering all options, including the possibility of celebrating with drive-by promotions, which were recently allowed by the County Board of Supervisors, MBMS is doing a virtual graduation, and the high school students and parents are still hoping for an in-person graduation, even if it is later in the summer.

Yesterday, I was recording my promotion speech for the 8 th grade class, speaking to an empty quad at the middle school. While I was happy to have the opportunity to address students on a video that will play in the near future, speaking to an empty quad reminded me of how odd, disappointing, and challenging our time has been since March 16.

I know we have made the most of this situation and I have received e-mails from so many of you about the great things happening in distance learning, and some of the things that you wish were different. It has not been perfect, but there have been so many success stories, and I want to thank all of you. Our teachers, staff, students, and parents have gone above and beyond and made distance learning work. And now our attention is almost fully turned to what next year will look like.

At our last Board meeting, we spent a great deal of time discussing the possibilities for next year. Yesterday, the Los Angeles County Office of Education released its Planning Framework for the 2020-21 School Year . In that document, which you can find on our COVID-19 page , a team of superintendents and other educational district leaders describe what needs to be done in a number of areas as we look to re-open schools next year. The framework examines how we open schools safely in terms of classroom spacing, the number of students allowed in classrooms or on our campuses, students coming to and from school, keeping our classrooms clean and sanitized, minimizing student movement during school, what lunch will look like, how our health offices and front offices will function, and so much more.

MBUSD, along with almost all districts around the country, is using this document and more, as we study two general options for how we could open next year.

Option A: Returning to school
I referred to Option A in my last newsletter. I think it is the option that most of us want to see, as we are all hoping to get back to normal as soon as possible. But Option A is not yet "normal school." It would be a return to campus, but in a limited fashion. It could mean students being on campus for mornings or afternoons only. It could mean students coming to campus for one or two days a week only. It could mean students coming to campus every other week. In all of these scenarios, we are reducing the number of students who are on campus and in classrooms at any one time so that we can socially distance and promote the safety of students and staff. And if we do proceed with an Option A, some families will choose not to send their children to school based upon their own assessments of the level of risk and their personal family situations. Appropriate accommodations will need to be made for these students.

Option B: Continuing Distance Learning
Option B remains the distance learning model. We would look for a more robust version of what we have now, building upon all that we have learned in these last three months in our distance learning instruction. While we changed our grading policy to limit the harm that could occur with student grades in this semester’s distance learning, next year would be a year of full accountability.

And even if we go to Option A, until a vaccine is developed, there is a chance that there will be a second or third wave or spike in COVID-19 cases locally, and we would need to shut down a classroom, a school or all schools and return to distance learning for a certain segment of time. That means we have to be ready for distance learning no matter what.

Moving Forward

So how are we going to make this decision?

  • Surveys: Later today, I will email surveys for students, for staff, for teachers, and for parents. For parents, you can submit one response or you can fill one out for each child. We will use this data, sharing it with the Board and our community as we move forward.

  • Town Hall Meetings: We will hold virtual meetings with our parents and with our staffs at each school, sharing the results of the survey, reviewing viable options, and answering questions. I have been working with a few PTAs doing this type of meeting, and I believe it’s a good way to exchange information. Dates on those will be coming out soon, but expect them in the first two weeks of June.

  • Steering Committees: We will form two steering committees, one for secondary schools and one for elementary schools, comprised of parent leaders, teacher leaders, our unions, site and district administrators, and students (on the secondary committee) to learn from the feedback from the surveys, to review any changes in what the Health Department is recommending, to examine plans being developed and implemented around the area and around the country, to investigate other alternatives, and to recommend re-opening options and plans to the Board.

  • Implementation: In late July or early August, the Board will make the determination on whether and how we will re-open our schools.

I know that people would like to see a plan in place right now, but I firmly believe there is just too much changing in the next few months for us to commit to a plan as of today. We hope scientists learn more about the disease itself. We will learn as we see whether there is a second spike of confirmed cases as more and more of our businesses, parks, and beaches open. If there is no significant spike, perhaps restrictions will loosen, making it easier for us to open schools. There are so many factors still to be considered, and we need to study all of them.

Whatever option we choose, we will have our children’s and our staff’s safety first in mind. We all want our schools to re-open, but we want to do so in line with the recommendations from the County Department of Health and the state.

Finally, as I mentioned in my last newsletter, the state budget picture has dramatically worsened because of tax revenues lost due the recession created by this COVID-19 Safer at Home time. This will have dramatic impacts on our budget that is already compromised. Most of you are aware that MBEF is holding their virtual Manhattan Wine Auction on Saturday night. There are no tickets required to participate. There are great auction items and an opportunity to donate further. I hope you consider being a part of it. I will be there and look forward to seeing many of you virtually at the event. More than ever, I am grateful to MBEF for adapting, improvising, and doing whatever they can to support our schools, our students, our employees, and our community.

We are all in this together, working towards solutions.

Wishing you and your families good health,
Mike Matthews, Ed.D.
Manhattan Beach Unified School District
325 S. Peck Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310)318-7345, x5900
[310-318-7345, x5902]  []  []