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Elementary School Reopenings in Santa Monica Delayed by Teacher Vaccine Demand

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By Jorge Casuso

February 16, 2021 -- While County Health officials gave the go-ahead Tuesday to begin reopening elementary schools, Santa Monica will lag behind given a vaccine demand made by the local teachers union.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District announced Tuesday it had reached a tentative agreement with the teachers union to reopen schools. The agreement has two parts.

The first -- that Los Angeles County records COVID-19 infection levels of 25/100,000 or fewer for five consecutive days before elementary schools can open -- has been reached.

"We are informing Los Angeles County schools tonight via an emailed letter that we expect to announce we have reached this threshold effective Tuesday, February 16," County Health officials announced Tuesday.

"This encouraging news means that dozens of elementary schools will be permitted to reopen for in-class instruction for students grades TK-6 as early as this week."

That won't be the case for Santa Monica and Malibu elementary schools. Under the tentative agreement's second part, "vaccines must be available to teachers and campus staff for a period of 15 days prior to students returning," said Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati.

For grades 7 through 12, reopening will not be permitted by the County until the case rate drops below 7 per 100,000 people.

So far, there has been little spread of the coronavirus in schools that have reopened in Los Angeles County, Health officials said.

"Outbreaks in schools that re-opened were relatively rare as the protocols in place prevented significant transmission at school sites," County Health officials said Tuesday.

While both cases and outbreaks increased during the recent countywide surge in infections, they have been declining steadily, officials said.

Since September 1, there have been a total of 86 outbreaks at K-12 school sites in LA County, officials said. Of those, 66 involved fewer than 6 cases, with most involving 3 or 4 cases.

"Only two outbreaks involved slightly more than 12 cases, and this included one office site that provided procurement services that had 25 cases and one site open only to cafeteria workers that had 15 cases," officials said.

As of Tuesday, 12 school districts had submitted a COVID Safety Plan (CSP) to the County and "are currently approved for re-opening, including LAUSD," officials said.

Like SMMUSD, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is not expected to begin reopening classes until teachers are vaccinated.

As of Tuesday, 180 private and charter schools had submitted their CSPs to the County; 173 have been given the go-ahead to re-open, with another seven schools awaiting reviews of their plans, County officials said.

When Santa Monica and Malibu public schools reopen, they will do so following the Distance Learning Plus (DL+) model approved by the School Board on December 17.

DL+ "is a continuation of how students have been receiving their instruction this fall, with a 'Plus' being the addition of some in-person activities," District officials said in December.

"Under the DL+ model, students would stay in the same classroom/classes with the same teacher(s), as is a high priority for families and teachers, based on our recent survey," officials said.

According to a survey conducted by the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association (SMMCTA) in November nearly 76 percent of the 407 teachers who responded said they preferred the DL+ model.

About 92 percent said the District should have a COVID testing program for students and staff before any return to campus for in-person instruction.

Vaccinations had not yet been rolled out when the survey was taken.

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