With the first day of school less than two weeks away, it’s time to mask up and vax up as SMMUSD prepares to welcome students, Transitional Kindergarten through Grade 12, back on campus.

After three turbulent semesters of COVID schooling, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is finalizing its safety measures to provide full time in-person schooling. Students with a health risk are allowed to enroll in a remote independent study program, which is designed in line with the State’s requirements.

The tools at the center of SMMUSD’s safety plan are the same tried and tested strategies utilized across the nation — masking, vaccination and testing.

On the masking front, the District proposes going beyond the directives of LA’s Public Health Department and ask everyone to wear masks outdoors in addition to the County’s indoor mask requirement. The exemption to this rule is when students are participating in an outdoor instructional activity such as PE or sports and a staff member is able to monitor social distancing.

According to a statement by Superintendent Ben Drati, this additional outdoor mask requirement is “for maximum protection of our students and staff, and based on widespread health expert opinion.”

Vaccinations are required for all eligible staff and are optional, but highly encouraged, for eligible students. The staff mandate will become effective 45 days from adoption and will be voted on, alongside the rest of SMMUSD’s safety plan, at an Aug. 10 special School Board meeting.

The District estimates that over 85 percent of staff are already vaccinated.

SMMUSD has begun offering and will continue to offer on campus vaccination clinics, which are open to staff, parents, students and community members. Students age 12+ are currently eligible for vaccination and students under 12 are expected to become eligible at some point in the fall.

There will be mandated Covid-19 surveillance testing for staff and students on a weekly basis and mandated rapid testing for any individual exhibiting symptoms. Contact tracing and isolation protocols will be carried out in the event of a positive test and in line with County guidelines.

Additional safety measures include health screenings prior to arriving at school, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, and proper ventilation.

“With all of these measures in place, we — district leaders responsible for the safety and well-being of our students and staff — believe that our students and staff will be safe and protected to the best of our ability, and we will be able to maximize teaching and learning,” said Drati.

These protocols were based upon the recommendations and requirements laid out by the Department of Public Health.

Director Barbara Ferrer recommends parents take a few additional steps to maximize the safety and success of their children as they prepare to return to school.

These include talking to children about the importance of hand hygiene and appropriate mask wearing and sending children to school with extra masks, in case their mask gets wet or dirty. Ferrer also said parents should have a strategy for checking symptoms daily and an emergency childcare plan in case their student becomes ill or is sent home.

Ferrer also said that based on data collected over spring and summer, it appears that on campus sports pose the highest risk of transmission.

​​“It’s important to note that between April and July, more than half of the outbreaks we saw were associated with youth sports,” said Ferrer in an Aug. 5 public health briefing. “Of the seven outbreaks that we reported this past week, four are associated with youth sports.”

According to Ferrer, there were several factors associated with these outbreaks including inconsistent mask wearing, lack of social distancing especially while eating and drinking, and mixing large numbers of students. SMMUSD’s protocols strive to avoid all of these scenarios.

The plan is expected to be finalized in the Aug. 10 School Board meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. According to Drati, the District plans to announce more details on its surveillance and outbreak testing plans prior to the start of school.

Clara@smdp.com