HomeSMUSD Board Mulls Reopening Plans

SMUSD Board Mulls Reopening Plans

The San Marino Unified School District has no concrete plans to bring students back to its shuttered campuses, but administrators and staff members are instead focusing on being prepared when that time eventually comes.
That was one of the chief messages at the Jan. 12 school board meeting, the first of the new year, as the community heard several reports that provided insight into the decision process. Stephen Choi, chief technology officer of the SMUSD, presented a report from the district’s COVID response team, which he chairs, that includes 32 members and a wide range of stakeholders.
“The information is so fluid and ever-changing,” said Choi, indicating that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has released 11 versions of its reopening protocols for K-12 schools.
Choi referenced data indicating an increase in the COVID case rate and the test positivity rate, which he said have “never been higher.” Additionally, he said that in San Marino the number of cases has “spiked,” during a surge that officials believe was caused by an increase in holiday gatherings, according to Choi. The SMUSD’s plan to reopen specialized services for in-person learning at San Marino High School on Jan. 11 has been postponed due to a recent recommendation from Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health.
Choi did say that the district plans to administer the PSAT test at San Marino High School in-person on Tuesday, Jan. 26.
Last month, the SMUSD received a waiver to reinstate in-person education for students in TK (transitional kindergarten, for 4-year-olds who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2) through 2nd grade at Valentine and Carver Elementary schools. But Superintendent Jeff Wilson said at Tuesday’s meeting that although some other school districts opened classrooms, the county health department began using language that in Wilson’s words was “getting increasingly strong toward restricting opening” to the extent that he knew of only one district that was offering TK-2 classes at the time of the board meeting.
“As I answer this question — and it comes up every single day — is ‘when will we open?’” Wilson asked rhetorically. “It would be disingenuous on my part to name a date and say that is a hard opening date. These facts and figures and dates change on a daily basis. So what we as a COVID compliance team have determined is we need to be ready when that moment happens.”
Wilson added that along with projected health data, the district will consider students’ emotional and physical wellness.
“We are listening, we are reading, we are taking this very seriously,” Wilson concluded.
Lena Richter, the SMUSD’s executive director of educational services, then outlined an instructional model to bring TK-2 students back onto campus under the intent of the return-to-school waiver. The program would include a hybrid model where all students would have an online component while a portion would also have an in-
person component. Choi said that a survey of San Marino’s TK-2 parents revealed that 58% responded “probably no” or “definitely no” to the question of allowing their students to return to in-person education. Choi said that another survey will follow.
The board then heard from three SMUSD parents who are also medical professionals and members of the COVID response team.
Dr. Jeremy Ng, an assistant clinical professor at UCLA, gave an update on self-quarantining regulations. “There is no way to completely prevent COVID outbreaks,” said Ng. “You just try to decrease the risk.”
He also said that early data shows that most COVID transmission is outside of schools.
“To be able to successfully reopen schools depends largely on low levels of community transmission, which we know is now astronomically high,” he said.
Dr. Danielle Dabbs, a critical care surgeon at Huntington Hospital, reported on PPE, or personal protective equipment, and said that young people are not taking masking seriously. She mentioned recent announcements by major health-care facilities that show that services are being rationed based on several factors.
“This is like Third World medicine,” said Dabbs, who appeared virtually and was wearing hospital scrubs and a mask temporarily placed under her chin. “How do we ration care and how do we figure out who is going to survive? And how do we put the resources to those who are most likely to survive, which means there are going to be people who are not going to get the resources. Maybe had this not been so impactful to our system, we might have given those people a shot.”
Dabbs also reminded meeting attendees that “the data supports wearing a mask.”
“We are probably going to be wearing masks for the next couple of years,” she said. “It’s something we are going to have to embrace.”
Dr. Tai-Wei Wu, neonatologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, pointed out that the COVID positivity rate for in-patients at his hospital was initially 2-3%, “but in the last two to three months it has gone up as high as 28%,” which he said “mirrors the community infections.”
“The good news is the majority of them do well and are discharged,” said Wu.
He also explained the phenomenon of MIS-C, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, a rare syndrome found in children 2-15 that is associated with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. MIS-C typically occurs two to three weeks after a COVID infection with the mean age of a patient being 8 years, according to Wu.
“That’s not easy to chat about,” said Wu, while noting that young people are doing well in fighting the new syndrome.
At the close of the presentations, Choi pointed out that the SMUSD has generated a 44-page reopening safety plan and is in the process of creating a reopening safety video for parents and students. The district also has a COVID compliance website with frequently asked questions for the proposed TK-2 opening.
Choi then provided a technology update and told the board that the district has checked out 1,139 Chromebooks and 302 hotspots, which provide an internet connection. The district has acquired the additional devices through funding provided by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, local San Marino PTAs and the federal government’s CARES Act.
“If there is anything positive out of this pandemic it is the fact that we now have 2,466 new Chromebooks, 420 new iPads from the county and 653 hotspots,” said Choi. The district has also acquired 110 laptops, 41 iPads, five desktop computers and 125 monitors for teachers and staff.
The SMUSD has been awarded more than $1 million in Federal E-rate funds for infrastructure, which includes internet access and uninterruptable power supplies. Choi said that in 2021-22 the district will request finding for network switches and wireless networking.
The final item on the agenda was communication protocols for board meetings, but that was tabled until a board retreat, which is slated for late January.


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