Manhattan Beach: Rally To Open Schools, Sports Stirs Reactions

Liz Spear
·8 min read

MANHATTAN BEACH, CA — Manhattan Beach will see yet another protest today [Wednesday, Nov. 18], this one in front of the Manhattan Beach Historical Society building in Polliwog Park. Set to begin at 4 p.m., the "Rally for the SAFE Opening of Schools and Sports Activities" is being organized by Manhattan Beach residents, including Tiffany Wright and actor Vince Vaughn. Mayor Pro Tem Suzanne Hadley is an advisor. Event organizers say sanitation stations will be provided and attendees will wear masks and social distance.

Last night, Vaughn addressed the Manhattan Beach City Council, explaining why some parents want "to see some evolution" with regards to children who are not "flourishing" with distance learning and/or the lack of being able to play sports games and keep score because practice in a sport is not meeting their needs. The Vaughn-defined "protest" makes the rally possible during Los Angeles County's COVID-19 restrictions.

Indeed, Manhattan Beach has had protests during the pandemic, mostly in relationship to the racial issues gripping the nation, although there has been at least one staged in support of re-opening Manhattan Beach public schools as soon as possible for in-person hybrid learning.

When Los Angeles County Supervisor heard about the Vaughn and Wright rally, she spoke with the involved parties and her communications director Liz Odendahl said, "They had a productive meeting. The Supervisor heard their concerns and she will absolutely be bringing them to Dr. Ferrer and our experts at the Department of Public Health. She wants to work with them to get more kids back to school and playing sports. We hope, however, that the organizers decide against holding a rally this Wednesday. COVID-19 cases across LA County have spiked and public health experts are urging everyone to avoid all gatherings."

Manhattan Beach Patch asked Manhattan Beach Unified School District board members for their thoughts as well as Manhattan Beach City Council members prior to Vaughn addressing City Council during public comment last night.

Here's what they said:

Shawn Chen, Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers Association

"I think it is reckless and irresponsible for the school board member elect [Cathey Graves, who was announced as a speaker but cannot attend and will have someone read her statement] to encourage this unsafe gathering. To laud a 'marquee headliner' for a potential super spreader event demonstrates the kind of thinking that will keep schools closed to in-person instruction.

Teachers are already loathe to begin the experiment of TK-2 starting December 1st. They are fearful of the kind of logic demonstrated by the people who think we should be expanding the potential exposures during this unprecedented increase in cases. It is the most extreme example of the kind of privileged behaviors engendered in 'the bubble'. Nurses and custodians and grocery store workers and teachers are expendable collateral damage to the kind of people who just want their 'rights'—even at the cost of other peoples' well-being."

Karen Komatinsky, Manhattan Beach Unified School District Board Member

"The Board of Trustees wants schools to be open….in the most safe and fast possible way. We have been working for months under the ever changing guidelines as given by the Department of Public Health. We have been working with our Union members in a tedious manner for weeks to design systems and plans that meet the guidelines, work within our agreements with our staff and ultimately are safe for all those returning to campuses. However this is a complicated and monumental task.

For months, I have been saying that a ‘return to learn’ is going to look significantly different than what school looked like back in February. We are being required to provide all kinds of new materials, safe guards, shields, etc as well as implement new health protocols within our site health offices and staff. There will be one way entrance and exits, traffic patterns will be impacted. This is just a few few to touch on a few items… the list is very long. Parents are frustrated, and I feel for the elementary family the most. School for these kiddos is very different and harder because the ability to sit, study, read, take in material is not there like that of an older student. I know that our staff and teachers are working so hard to try and make it different, better, helpful, etc. I do agree with the idea of using outdoor spaces, however, then we have a slew of questions surrounding access and security, of not only the materials to be used outdoors but then the actual campus itself. It becomes another level of complexity.

Parents need to watch the ongoing Board meetings (or pull up all past meetings through the District website) so that they can see and hear the frustration that the Board has had for some time with the re-opening process. However, throughout all of our own frustration, we all have had to continue to work at this. Hundreds, probably thousands of hours have been spent on all kinds of creative ways to work through all of this and we are slowly coming up with new ways to get to some sense of normal. This is a Board that is very aware of the reality of the situation, and beyond. We have been communicating with numerous parent groups and individual parents for some time and are very keenly aware of all issues, including the social, emotional and wellness. We continuously look at research data that discusses the increase of suicide, drug and alcohol use, etc. These are not new topics to us and we are very aware that these issues are on the rise in response to the pandemic situation.

AND our hands are tied. As we fall in LA County lines, we are required to follow those guidelines. We cannot and will not go against County standards. While, our MB and South Bay numbers are lower than LA County tiered system, as a school district we remain restricted to following those protocols and standards. This is beyond the school district and our local City government to manage or change.

As for the rally itself, as both a resident and a Trustee, I am very concerned with and frankly disappointed that a City Council member, specifically Council member Hadley, is helping to organize and support the rally efforts. We have had many conversations with our City leadership, and they have been supportive in the steps that the District has been making as a whole, however, Council member Hadley has continued to use her City leadership role in a less than collaborative spirit on behalf of the School District through her social media presence and commentary. She has not been involved in any of the highly complicated meetings and conversations and follow on intricate details that have been necessary as we continue to work with our employee base. I do not know Mr. Vaughn, outside of the obvious, but I am sure that he is like many parents who want more for his children than schools are permitted to give at this point. I can only hope that this rally turns out to be how it is described and not an opportune event to criticize the efforts and work that is ongoing daily.

Again, my point is that the Board of Trustees wants to ‘return to learn’ in the best manner (and speed) as possible. There is still a mountain of work to be done and things to think and work through and should remain in the hands of education experts, teachers, counselors, health professionals, etc. And this entire situation will be handed over as the primary focus to the new Board members. Together this new Board and the leadership team will need to continue to tackle the complicated situation. They will need support and patience from the community."

Jan Fenton, Manhattan Beach Unified School District Board Member

"I understand parents' frustration, and I empathize with families who have younger kids or students with special needs. But, I assure you we are doing everything in our power to bring back the students and staff as quickly AND as safely as possible. On Friday afternoon, Jen Cochran and I met (via zoom) with Tiffany Wright and Vince Vaughn. I told them that since March, this has been our #1 priority. In fact not a day goes by (even on weekends) when members of our administration and board aren't trying to figure out ways to reopen our campuses while following all state and county guidelines.

Like many of those who will be attending the rally (none of the current board members will be there as we are in closed session), I'm worried about the social emotional wellness of the entire student body. I have heard countless stories from boosters who have kids that are following protocol for conditioning/practicing with their teams (or band cohorts). This has made a HUGE difference in their wellbeing and has created a sense of normalcy, plus safe social interaction. I would love to do more... but again we must follow the rules and we're not willing to break them just because our city's Covid numbers are lower then LA County.

I don't agree with holding a rally when cases are rising and wish a virtual forum or town hall was considered as an alternative. It's important for the Supervisor to hear parents, and other South Bay constituents, but it must be done safely and constructively."

Nancy Hersman, Manhattan Beach City Council member

"All of us want the kids back in school safely. This gathering with 50-100 people violates County guidelines, and could cause additional cases of Covid and actually delay our ability to get our kids back into the classroom and on to the fields."

This article originally appeared on the Manhattan Beach Patch