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District Elementary Schools Could Reopen By Mid-March

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By Jorge Casuso

February 22, 2021 -- The School District and local teachers union signed an agreement Wednesday that will allow elementary schools to reopen on a limited basis as early as March 15 -- one year after shutting down for the coronavirus emergency.

Under the agreement, elementary schools would be open a maximum of two days 15 days after vaccines are made available to teachers and school personnel, which County officials expect will be March 1.

On-site offerings will be limited to "social, emotional and physical activities" and some academic extracurricular activities such as labs, said District spokesperson Gail Pinsker.

"First-time instruction" -- material taught to students for the first time -- will continue to take place primarily under the "distance learning" model, Pinsker said.

"We will have many students who will choose not to take advantage of the classroom opportunities," she said. "This makes it equitable.

In a statement Friday, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) officials said the agreement "seeks to balance having on-site/in-person academic, physical and social-emotional learning experiences, while not disadvantaging students who remain at home."

Site principals at each school will work with their School Leadership Teams and Faculty Advisor Committees to determine whether their schools will open for one or two days and what activities will be offered.

The District is working with Providence Saint John's Health Center to set up a vaccine clinic for the approximately 2,200 District workers, which includes teachers, classified employees and part-time workers, Pinsker said.

District officials hope to have school personnel vaccinated "as soon as possible," she said.

Under the contract, the timeline for opening elementary schools is dependent on the date the vaccine is available for education and child care workers, which Health officials have cautioned may be delayed, Pinsker said.

The agreement -- which is the eighth addendum to the union contract signed last August -- was finalized one day after LA County Health officials gave the go-ahead last Tuesday to begin reopening elementary schools.

The move came after COVID-19 infection levels dropped below 25 cases per 100,000 for five consecutive days.

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

According to District data, there are 3,973 students enrolled in District elementary schools in grades TK through 5, and 5,693 in grades 6 through 12.

There has been little spread of the coronavirus in schools that had already reopened in Los Angeles County, Health officials said ("Elementary School Reopenings in Santa Monica Delayed by Teacher Vaccine Demand," February 16, 2021).

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

The School District's current restrictions on on-site learning will be "reevaluated on an ongoing basis" and could be eased "when everybody feels it's time to ramp up," Pinsker said.

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