Manhattan Beach Unified School District will fully reopen schools for in-person instruction
by Mark McDermott
The Manhattan Beach Unified School District will fully reopen classrooms on all of its campuses for in-person instruction by April 19 after negotiations with its teachers’ union were successfully completed this week. All elementary, middle, and high school students will be invited to return for five days a week in-person instruction.
Superintendent Mike Matthews said that the steep decline in COVID-19 cases made a full reopening possible. The district this week achieved a milestone, of sorts, when in-person instruction, albeit still in a hybrid model, reached every grade level. It was the first time since March 13, 2020, that students from every grade were in classrooms.
“To have the Covid numbers decline at such a fast rate has opened up so many opportunities for our students,” Matthews said. “We finally gave every student the opportunity to be on campus, and on April 19 I can’t wait to let every student be on campus every day in all our schools.”
Students will return for 4.5 hours of instruction daily beginning on April 19, not quite a full school day but a huge step towards normalcy.
Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers Association president Shawn Chen said negotiations have been underway for two months to iron out all the details.
“We all recognize that in-person school is best for kids. As professionals who have dedicated our entire adult lives to serving in educational settings, this has been our focus,” Chen said. “The MBUTA bargaining team represents members from elementary, middle, and high school. We have a small district and know our members individually and do our best to help the district prioritize safety. Safe campuses benefit the entire school community, including the students and the parents.”
Chen and many of the teachers she represents have drawn the ire of parents frustrated with the pace of reopening. Last week, former USC quarterback and television personality Matt Leinart, a Manhattan Beach resident, weighed in on his Twitter account. He attached a chart comparing in-person instruction in local secondary schools, which varied from 3 to 6 hours per day and included a reference to MBUSD’s “Wellness Wednesdays.”
“Here’s a chart so you can see, oh and wellness Wednesdays which is no school because yah our ‘teachers’ need a day off!” Leinart wrote on his Twitter account, which has 68,000 followers.
Matthews declined to comment specifically on Leinart’s criticism but did defend the teachers and other employee unions.
“I have read many emails blaming our teachers’ union for not being able to return to in-person learning,” Matthews said. “That blame has been misplaced. At every step of the way, we have communicated with our unions, and we have managed to be among the very first school districts in LA County to return to in-person learning. Our unions have pushed to make sure that the members are working in a safe environment. We agree, and we have appreciated their collaboration in taking steps to create the safest possible working environment.”
Chen said that teachers simply wanted to be vaccinated before a full return to in-person instruction, and now almost all teachers have received their vaccinations.
“The parents who have spent so much time dividing the idea between a teacher and a union member need to understand that most of our teachers are union members,” Chen said. “It doesn’t do any good to badmouth teachers. Teachers are doing their best. We’ve been doing more than most other districts. And we are happy now that most of us have had the chance to be vaccinated. That’s all we were asking for.”
Matthews sent out a newsletter Wednesday announcing the April 19 full reopening. He again expressed gratitude to all district employees for how they had weathered the pandemic.
“Thanks again to every single employee who has risen to the challenge. You have my gratitude and respect,” Matthews said. “And to all of our parents who have been supportive of our employees and their efforts, and who have done so much to support their own children’s learning during this time, thank you. Once again, we continue to move forward.” ER
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