Messages from Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati

  • March 31, 2021

    Superintendent’s Message: Full Reopening Plan FAQ

    Dear Parents and Guardians,

    I am following up on my prior message regarding our full reopening timeline as well as the district request for our families to fill out a commitment form so we may continue finalizing details for return to full capacity as outlined previously. Approximately 65% of our families have responded. We have extended the form deadline to Saturday, April at 5 p.m. so that we can capture the remaining decisions. If you have already submitted your form, thank you very much. Please do by the deadline if you have not submitted one form per student.

    We’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and answers as an update on our reopening plan.

    Question: Does a family need to commit to distance learning or on-campus now, or is there flexibility to change?

    Answer: Initially, yes, we need you to commit to one method.

    For elementary students, after a limited time, we are planning for families to have the opportunity to transition one time from distance learning to in-person or from in-person to distance learning. The magnitude by which we are able to allow this movement will be predicated on established student teacher ratios at the beginning of the full return.

    For secondary students we will provide more information upon our return from spring break. We anticipate both on ramps into in-person instruction and off ramps into distance learning. As secondary students will already have streaming options in their classes, we should be able to accommodate this movement, but principals at sites must have input on what this will look like and how to coordinate the details. The three-foot distancing requirement will also be a factor.

    Question: How will the district ensure that the distance option and in-person learning option offer equivalent learning opportunities for elementary students?

    Answer: We have determined that the best way to ensure that the academic needs of distance learners in elementary schools are met with an appropriate education is to assign a teacher dedicated to providing instruction solely for distance learners. In-person teachers will be focused class activities that is a full day of teaching for teachers and learning for students. Distance learners will require unique activities to maintain engagement and provide screen time breaks that will allow for better learning. I hope it is clear to parents how mixing the two formats would diminish learning for both distance learners and in-person learners. We will try our best to match the student / teacher arrangement at the school-site level, but the numbers would have to align perfectly for this to occur. Most likely, we will establish a cohort of district-wide credentialed classroom teachers to teach distance learning students across the district. This is a part of the reason why we need all families to fill out the form so that we can staff adequately. We will seek to keep students in the same class currently together with their peers in the newly created distance learning classes.

    Question: What measures will the schools have for testing and contact tracing?

    Answer: We have arranged for surveillance testing prior to the decision to return full-time. The information regarding testing is linked here: COVID-19 Surveillance Testing for Staff and Students. We are currently exploring the idea of pool testing as a viable approach for expanding the district’s testing regimen. More information will be provided regarding this method. I also urge each of you to watch the Video, SMMUSD Health Symposium, 3/25/21 (Password: ktR7a%cu) that the district organized with local health experts regarding COVID-19. Testing was discussed extensively.

    Question: What will be the criteria for notification of a potential exposure?

    Answer: The district has established and shared information in written form as well as in meetings throughout the year that describes safety protocols including managing exposure. Linked is information about all health-related measures, including the Case Response Guide that addresses this question. The link also contains access to the district COVID-19 dashboard including live updates of COVID-19 cases in the district and by school site. Each school has a specific safety plan that is posted on the home page of each school website.

    Question: Can you explain how lunchtime will be handled?

    Answer: Unlike the three (3) foot distancing within the classroom, six (6) foot distancing outside of the classroom and while students are on lunch break and during passing periods for secondary is still the expectation, per the protocol by the Centers for Disease Control, state and county health departments. During lunch, students will be served through a grab-and-go system will be expected to be six feet apart while they are outside. Staff will educate and monitor students throughout lunch. Principals will share their plans prior to the start of full in-person return following spring break. It is our expectation that some schools will have multiple lunch periods to aid in proper distancing.

    In conclusion, we realize that the news of the district moving to full reopening is a joyous occasion for some and difficult and concerning for others. We believe that our chosen direction is one that meets the needs of parents and students. Please fill out the commitment form if you haven't done so already as the information will allow for district staff to finalize the staffing arrangements needed at all school sites.

    Thank you for your patience and I hope you are all able to enjoy some family time with your loved ones over spring break.


    Dr. Ben Drati, Superintendent


    March 26, 2021

    Superintendent’s Message: Plan to Fully Reopen and Required Return Plan Form

    Dear Parents, Guardians, Staff and Community Members,

    We know that many families are very excited to have their students return to school five days a week following spring break, while some families are still hesitant. With the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health distancing guidance reduced to three feet in classrooms announced on Monday, this opens up tremendous opportunities for fully reopening for those students who are ready for return.

    We will reopen full-time in-person: Elementary, April 19 / Secondary, April 26
    We are excited to announce our planned full reopening dates. Elementary students will return full-time on April 19 and secondary students will return full-time on April 26. Secondary students will have a week of hybrid as a transition the week of April 19. Distance learning will be an option

    School resumes on April 12 with distance learning for all.
    Why are we not reopening fully in-person on that date?

    • Current travel quarantine requirements will prevent some students and staff from returning to in-person on April 12. Our reopening focus is the health, safety and wellbeing of students and staff.
    • We are still in a pandemic and need to take all precautions to ensure we do not end up with cases that require a school to shut down and quarantine, sending hundreds of students and staff home. This delay of one week will provide an extra measure of safety for our return.
    • Principals and teachers will need adequate time to create new bell schedules and campus protocols to accommodate both the educational needs and safety requirements for students, and this cannot take place until April 12 when staff returns. Again, these are complicated issues that are unique to the new position in which we are finding ourselves, but we believe that this careful planning will lead to a safe and engaging school experience for all students.
    • Principals and staff have spent the past few months planning for a hybrid return on April 12, and our site facilities will be ready for students by this date. However, this shift to full reopening cannot be achieved without time needed for many complex logistical concerns, including: providing new virtual classrooms with certificated SMMUSD teachers for those students remaining in distance learning-only; creating outdoor eating areas for students to eat / drink with six-foot distancing due to masks off; activating child care programs; and restructuring transportation schedules to accommodate strict bus capacity guidelines.
      • For elementary, the week of April 12: students will engage in a modified distance learning model with both synchronous and asynchronous work. Your principal will provide you with more information.
      • For secondary, the week of April 12 will engage in a modified distance learning model, followed by a week of hybrid for the week of April 19, as we ramp up to reopen on April 26. Your principal will provide you with more information.

     We are confident that this is the best decision to ensure everything goes smoothly upon return. We are committed to reopening our schools and remaining open. 

    Distance learning option
    For elementary students not returning for in-person, you will be assigned a new teacher and new class with other distance learning-only students in the same grade. This is the only way we can continue offering a high-quality distance learning Zoom experience with similar scheduling and a fully-focused return to on-campus learning. Distance learning teacher assignments will be provided the week of April 12. 

    For secondary students continuing with distance learning only, students will keep their same teachers and participate with the class via Zoom. There may be a few exceptions for teachers who are unable to return in person.

    Decision form
    As we turn this corner we have all looked forward to, we require that you fill out this decision form, so we know who is returning and who is continuing with distance learning only. It’s critical that all families submit this form, so we may plan accordingly.
    (Direct link:

    Special education students
    For students with IEPs, please work with your special education team in order to better understand how your child's services can be delivered per the LACDPH guidelines. We will fulfill the minutes in your child's IEP, but we will need to look at the safest way to provide services. If your child will be continuing in Distance Learning, services will continue to be delivered online.

    After school care

    • We will do our best to support elementary school families with childcare needs upon our return to full in-person instruction beginning on April 19. For information or questions about childcare in grades TK-3 at all sites, please visit our website at or email

    • CREST Club for 4th/5th graders will operate at Edison, Franklin, Roosevelt, and Will Rogers. For information about childcare in grades 4/5, please visit the city website or call (310) 458-8540. For 4th/5th graders at the remaining sites, please also email for more information. CREST Enrichment will continue to be offered virtually. Please visit the city website for more information.

    Local health experts provide ongoing support
    Our health symposium featuring a panel of local medical professionals on March 25 shared medical information and insights that further support this decision. The symposium also provided valuable guidance for families who want to continue in distance learning or are uncertain about what is best for their student. If you missed it, you can view the recording

    Stay vigilant
    All of us are responsible for following current health department travel guidelines. We recognize that some families and staff may travel during non-school days. We expect any staff or students who have traveled outside of California to abide by the required 10-day quarantine. This is for the health and safety of all staff and students.

    This is not the time to let our guard down. We must all continue to do our part to keep COVID-19 away from our staff and families. To accomplish that upon return, we will continue with strict health protocols, including wellness screenings, mandatory and proper mask wearing, except when eating or drinking, regular hand washing / sanitizing and six-foot distancing while eating / drinking. It will be critical to keep sick children at home so as not to risk an entire class, or worse, an entire school having to shut down. Your principal will inform you of the consequences for students who will not wear their mask properly, as this is a serious issue during this time.

    In addition, we will be announcing a COVID testing protocol for our school sites, as well as other safety measures that we view as important elements in keeping all individuals safe while building confidence for families uncertain about sending their students back to in-person school.

    We are in this together, and together we can fully return to school safely and continue delivering distance learning to those students who are not returning at that time. We look forward to enjoying the remainder of the school year to the fullest extent possible.

    Please have a safe and enjoyable spring break.


    Dr. Ben Drati, Superintendent

    Mensaje del Superintendente: Plan para la reapertura escolar total y formulario requerido del plan de regreso