Transitional Kindergarten through 2nd graders in Manhattan Beach Unified this week stepped foot on campus for the first time since March.

In-person schooling is back in session on a hybrid basis as of Tuesday, Dec. 8 for that group of students.

They were initially supposed to return the week after Thanksgiving, Dec. 1, but compromise between the board and Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers' Association pushed it another week.

"To start immediately after Thanksgiving break would have put teachers in the position to work over the break," said Shawn Chen, president of the teachers' association and English teacher at Mira Costa High School. "That was too anxiety inducing and we wouldn't have (had) enough cooperation from teachers."

The teachers' union since March in weekly negotiations with the board have pushed for reopening as slowly and safely as possible, Chen said.

"We really were hoping that because we waited that week, (and since) the (coronavirus case) numbers ended up being as high as they are now, that would create a sense of responsibility for them (the district) to say 'we should wait two more'," she added.

Superintendent Mike Matthews, however, trusts that it's best to follow health officials' guidance on when to open schools.

"I am following LA County Department of Public Health and state guidance," Matthews said via email Wednesday. "Both, as of today, are prioritizing the education of our youngest and most needy students as an essential and safe service; if that guidance changes, we will follow it."

At the end of the month, the school board will evaluate how to move forward, Superintendent Mike Matthews said in an interview last month. They're back in class Thursday, Dec. 10 for another half day; students are only on campus Tuesday and Thursday mornings during the hybrid instruction.

Redondo Beach Unified and Hermosa Beach City School Districts, however, decided this week to delay TK-2 students' return to campus until January in precaution of higher COVID-19 numbers during the holiday season.

To attend school each day, families must answer a health questionnaire through an app called Ruvna every morning of in-person schooling before going to campus.

Relying on honest answers, students cannot set foot on campus if they have:

  • Fever of 100.4 or higher, or or feeling feverish (chills or sweating)
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea;
  • A new cough;
  • Traveled out of state in the last 14 days;
  • Attended a social gathering with others outside of the household since November 30; not including supervised educational settings, sports conditioning, faith based services, or protests.

If they answer "yes" to any of the questions, families will get a red screen on the app, letting them know they aren't allowed at school.

Chen, however, said she is already concerned with the screening method after hearing from teachers.

"Teachers at more than one campus said students (whom) they know were out of town" within the two-week time frame went on campus the first day, Chen said, adding that some children have told their teachers they've had sleepovers or been to other gatherings.

"This is why we wanted to do it slowly," Chen said. "We want to see whether or not the community will truly partner with teachers and administration and do their part. If they're going to insist on (attending) social gatherings, all of these things bring risk into the classroom."

The two most important elements of a safe return, Matthews said, are the wearing of masks at all times and the proper self-screening of parents and employees before students and staff set foot on campus.

"When we hear of a possible concern about the screening of an employee or a parent, we follow up with those individuals," Matthews said. "If we determine that we cannot trust the truthfulness of an employee or a parent regarding the screening, we would take steps to keep those employees or students off of our campuses in order to keep our students and staff safe."

"It's not the kids' fault--it's that the parents are misbehaving," Chen said. "We like to think of (risk mitigation) as honoring a social contract," she added; if someone will do one risky thing, they just might do another.

There were also issues covering classes on the first day, Chen said. A school administrator served as a substitute teacher at one school, she said, when the district had since last week to find an actual substitute. Some teachers were asked by staff, too, she said, to bring their own PPE because it was in short supply.

The superintendent, though, said neither of those things happened.

"We have offered PPE for all teachers, for all substitutes and for all employees," Matthews said. "Teachers have the option to provide their own."

Likewise, no administrator subbed for any in-person teachers on the first day, Matthews said, but the district is ready if that's needed. Even in non-COVID times, he added, administrators provide support when needed, stepping in until a substitute could be found.

Manhattan Beach Middle School closed Monday, Dec. 7, potentially for two weeks, after three COVID-19 cases were linked to the school the week before and during Thanksgiving break, according to a Dec. 6 letter from the district to MBMS families. So far, only high needs, or special education students had returned to the middle school for hybrid learning.

Food services usually operate out of the middle school campus, but have moved to Meadows Elementary because of this.

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