The local Board of Education on Monday heard the first reading of a proposal regarding independent study that was expected to become a board policy later in the week.
In accordance with Assembly Bill 130, the San Marino Unified School District must offer an independent study option for students whose health would be put at risk by in-person instruction — “as determined by the parent or guardian,” in the legislation’s wording.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law on July 9, and that in turn required the SMUSD to notify the public of the program before the first day of school, which was scheduled to take place Wednesday. Thus, the school board had to hold the special meeting on Monday night to have the first reading.
The board was expected to approve implementation of the independent study program at its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday evening, after the Tribune’s press deadline.
Lena Richter, the SMUSD’s executive director of educational services, reported that the families of 42 students at the elementary level and 30 in secondary schools had indicated through a survey that they intend to take advantage of the offer.
“Independent study is available for students with health or personal circumstances that make attendance difficult,” said Richter. She also stated that independent study differs from distance learning or the hybrid educational models that were implemented last year when the COVID-19 pandemic closed campuses.
Richter added that students who have enrolled in independent study for at least 15 days are allowed to return to in-person instruction.
Stephen Choi, the SMUSD’s director of technology, said San Marino schools were “ready for a safe, full, in-person opening.” He said that 96.3% of the district’s employees are fully vaccinated and that the case rate among the San Marino school community is 0.1%. The administrator added that children in San Marino ages 12-17 have been vaccinated at a 90.8% clip.
Choi said that though there have been increases in the test positivity rate and hospitalizations in Los Angeles County, those numbers are “much different than the surge [the county] experienced last winter.”
He said that most new cases involve the Delta variant; the Centers for Disease Control and prevention have said vaccines authorized in the U.S. are highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, including against the variant.
“Last year when we reopened for in-person instruction for approximately 50% of our students, no teachers or students were fully vaccinated at that time,”
Choi said. “Our schools trusted the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s safety measures every day, and all staff and students remained safe. There were no exposures, no outbreaks, and no school closures.
“Science and data shows that schools are one of the safest places to be,” he continued. “As a parent of an elementary San Marino Unified student who has physically come to school in person and has been on campus at every opportunity last year, it is abundantly clear to me that students are very safe in school.”
Choi indicated that he and his wife have a second child who will begin classes at a San Marino school.
“We will implement safety measures that work and will provide an experience of in-person learning that is so essential for their development,” he said.
The SMUSD will require masking indoors regardless of vaccination status and encourage outdoor masking whenever possible, especially when there is crowding.
“No student will be discouraged from masking,” Choi said. Students and staff members will also be able to access COVID-19 testing at no cost.