EDUCATION: Teachers seek to delay MBUSD TK-2 program until after holidays
by Mark McDermott
The Manhattan Beach Unified School District has received LA County authorization to begin part-time, in-person instruction again for students in transitional kindergarten through second grade. But the district’s teachers union, concerned by a countywide spike in cases and the impact family gatherings over the holidays are likely to have in producing more COVID-19 cases, has asked that the district wait to begin the TK-2 program until early next year.
Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers Association president Shawn Chen said the timing for a return to the classroom just isn’t right.
“We are concerned with the rising number of cases and with the increasing reports from students telling us that they are leaving town and going to sleepovers and engaging in other behaviors that will have negative consequences in an in-person schooling environment,” Chen said.
The teachers union had signed off on the TK-2 waiver application with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, including a letter of support with the application submitted by Superintendent Mike Matthews on October 23 and approved on November 5. MBUSD hoped to have students back in classrooms by December 1.
But Chen said MBUTA is back in negotiations with district leadership seeking a later return date. The teachers have leverage in such a negotiation because substitute teachers, always in short supply, are largely unavailable during the pandemic.
“MBUTA is hoping to negotiate a return to phased in-person learning after the winter holiday,” she said. “Currently substitutes are non-existent, TK-2 teachers are requesting distance teaching or COVID leaves. If we do not have enough teachers willing to work in person, administrators will need to fill in for those teachers on days when in-person learning is scheduled.”
Matthews said on Wednesday that the district still hopes to begin the TK-2 program this year, even if that means phasing it in slowly. Matthews said the board would discuss the matter at Wednesday’s meeting.
“At this point, neither the County nor the State are recommending against opening schools with waivers,” Matthews said. “In the past few days, I have heard from MBUTA leaders, from several teachers, and from several parents that there are concerns with starting our TK-2 hybrid program as the COVID numbers are going up.”
L.A. County’s COVID-19 adjusted case rate has nearly doubled, from 7.6 per 100,000 people last week to 13.7 per 100,000 people this week. Schools cannot more broadly reopen under state guidelines until the county experiences two consecutive weeks of daily counts under 7 per 100,000. The TK-2 waiver allows limited reopening for qualifying schools’ youngest students.
“Our plan is a very gradual reopening, and that slow entry makes even more sense with the numbers being the way they are,” Matthews said. “Superintendents and board members across LA County are meeting with the LA County Department of Public Health [Thursday], and we will see if there are new directives or advisories.” ER
by Jen Ezpeleta