The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has plans to fully reopen elementary schools on April 19 and secondary schools on April 26.

All schools will have strict Covid-19 safety protocols in place and parents will be asked to fill out a form indicating whether their child will attend school in-person or remain in distance learning.

Elementary students not returning in-person will be assigned a new teacher and new class with other distance learning-only students in the same grade. Secondary students continuing with distance learning will keep their same teachers.

Schools will not be opening in-person the first week after spring break as state guidelines require that anyone who left the state must quarantine for 10 days upon their return, and staff need time to prepare new schedules and protocols.

All schools will follow a program of modified distance learning the week of April 12. Secondary schools will have a hybrid in-person schedule the week of April 19 to give students and staff the opportunity to adjust before fully returning on April 26.

On Thursday a panel of doctors and administrators presented the measures the District is taking to protect everyone on campus, which include mandatory masking, classroom ventilation, three feet distance between desks, teacher vaccinations, diagnostic testing and contact tracing.

Experts said that if all these steps are followed the risk of Covid-19 transmission on campus will be minimal.

“I would assure parents that if we carefully follow the guidelines that we’ve set out, we can create schools that are safe for in-person learning,” said Dr. Will Nicolas, a director at the L.A. County Department of Public Health. “I say this now that we have good evidence that, in general, schools are not hubs for Covid transmission. Transmission is lower in schools than it is in the community.”

Per newly updated CDC guidelines that have also been approved by the L.A. County Department of Public Health, desks only need to be spaced three feet apart inside classrooms. This adjustment allows the District to bring all students on campus at the same time instead of relying on a hybrid model.

“The bottom line is that there was no measurable difference in the risk faced either by students or by the staff between the school districts that were using a three foot versus the six foot threshold,” said UCLA Professor Dr. Lloyd-Smith, an expert in Covid-19 transmission.

Students will be required to wear their masks at all times unless they are eating or drinking and are not permitted on campus with any symptoms of illness. All classrooms have updated air circulation systems and all eating will be done outdoors with six feet between students. The District has strict isolation and contract tracing protocols and will share all information about potential outbreaks on their online Covid-19 dashboard.

“We will absolutely enforce the rules. We will be dogged about it. We are going to monitor things very carefully,” said Superintendent Ben Drati. “I think the biggest prevention for us is going to be educating the parents and students and then establishing a social contract with each other.”

Vaccinations are well underway for staff and are another key tool in safely reopening schools. According to Superintendent Drati, all staff members who want to get vaccinated have already received at least one dose. Students over the age of 16 are encouraged to get vaccinated once they become eligible on April 15.

Clara@smdp.com