SMMUSD updated the community this week with their plans to combat COVID-19 with students back in classrooms. Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati addressed the meeting participants and gave them a run down of the district’s outline for the Fall 2021 semester.

Drati shared that Los Angeles County is doing better in terms of positive cases and praised the use of masks and testing. He also mentioned that being in-person is a good thing because the children are visibly happy to be back on campus. However, the district does have approximately 200 students participating in independent study, which allows them to work from home.

“We have teachers dedicated for that [independent study],” Drati said, “I don’t have an exact figure, how many for each area, but we have teachers from elementary, middle school and high school, so we have dedicated teachers serving.”

On campus, Drati said SMMUSD is following all the rules that the Department of Public Health has in place. “You see, a lot of the requirements from last year are actually recommendations,” he said, “So for anybody that’s looking at those things wondering why we’re not doing the six foot social distance, masks, it is because certain rules moved to recommendations.”

Drati said the district will require masks when the students crowd together during passing periods and lunch time. He also said that all teachers and staff are being required to be vaccinated unless otherwise exempt. If a student tests positive for COVID-19 they must quarantine for 10 days.

The Department of Public Health did add mandatory COVID-19 screening for students and staff. Drati praised the decision and thanked policy makers for doing it.

“I think we needed it.” Drati said. “They recognized that it actually helps stop the spread in schools and so on.”

The Superintendent noted that approximately 85% of families have given consent for the testing to take place.

“We did provide an avenue for parents to submit exemption forms, regarding testing and wearing masks. Drati said, “So right now we’re in the process of evaluating consent forms. And we’ve had to notify parents whether their consent form was authorized or not. There’s a lot of things about religion, medical needs, and all of that so we’re going through it. Our goal is to have that to many families by this weekend, so that they at least know what their options are.”

Drati shared that there seemed to be confusion over The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that governs student information and privacy.

“Federal law says student records are private, and for most purposes cannot be shared by the district without parental concern, consent, but there’s exceptions to that rule, including when it’s for health and safety purposes,” said Gretchen Shipley, an education attorney for Fagen Friedman Fulfrost. “The information is being given directly to the vendor, so I’m not even sure it falls within the sphere of being an educational record, and they are obtaining direct consent from parents.”

Some parents questioned a variety of COVID-19 protocols including the kind of test used by the district, mask requirements and the length of mandatory quarantines.

Drati said parents can take their children for outside PCR testing, so long as the results are provided to the district and aligned with the school testing schedule. He also explained the district will continue to follow guidelines from Public health officials regarding masks and quarantine requirements.

daniel@smdp.com