Malibu parents decidedly less enthusiastic about protocols and potential vaccine mandates

Parents in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) like the district’s masking policies and support vaccine mandates for students of all ages. But there was one outlier to the consensus: Malibu.

That’s according to survey results from about 3,500 district parents, teachers and staff members that were released by the SMMUSD last Thursday, Dec. 16.

Overall, those who responded to the survey from Santa Monica’s school sites said they felt “very satisfied” with safety protocols; “very satisfied” with the district’s testing program; “very satisfied” with the district’s screening process (including things like temperature checks); and “very satisfied” with the outdoor masking protocol.

When it came to vaccine mandates, the results were largely the same: “very supportive” on vaccine mandates for high school and middle school students and, while some school sites such as Olympic High School and Roosevelt Elementary School were a slightly more tepid, Santa Monica parents still had an overwhelmingly positive response to vaccine mandates for elementary school students.

Out west in Malibu, responses were decidedly more mixed.

There was no marked support for the district’s safety protocols, with Webster Elementary and Malibu High School showing moderate support, while Malibu Middle School and Malibu Elementary respondents were less satisfied. But the starkest difference came in responses to questions over outdoor masking protocols and vaccine mandates. In fact, no Malibu school sites expressed overall support for vaccines or outdoor masking. In the city’s two elementary schools, about twice as many parents said they were “very unsupportive” of elementary school vaccine mandates than those who said they were “very supportive.”

Both SMMUSD Board Vice President Dr. Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein and Board Member Laurie Lieberman said they believed the number of respondents made the survey results valuable as district leaders decide how to more forward as the third year of the pandemic begins.

“We received a good cross-section of responses from parents, staff and secondary students from all schools and district offices,” Tahvildaran-Jesswein said in a statement provided by the district. “The data set is expansive and provides valuable information to our school board and district leadership for our continued discussions of protocols and interest in off-ramping certain protocols.”

Lieberman wrote in an email that the survey results would be combined with expertise from health experts as the board determined protocols going forward. In the past, both Lieberman and Tahvildaran-Jesswein have spoken in favor of vaccine mandates for at least some ages of students.

“As we move into the new year, advice from public health and other officials at the county, state and federal levels of government is also developing and changing as the new Covid variant spreads,” Lieberman wrote. “We will need to pay close attention to medical and public health experts while also staying in touch with our school community as we consider the timing and details of modifications in SMMUSD protocols.”

According to SMMUSD Board Member Craig Foster, representing Malibu, the answer to the disparity between Malibu and Santa Monica responses was implementing rules for the whole district that would apply to each school site based on different markers.

“I would certainly like to see there be a broad set of criteria for the whole district,” Foster said. “And then they’re implemented on a site-specific basis, which would allow for schools that are smaller or have particular circumstances to have different experiences of what the overall plan looks like. I think that would be good. And I think it’s possible. And in a district with this much diversity of school experience, it would be a smart thing to do.”

The criteria would be based on both COVID-19 metrics and logistics, Foster suggested.

In response to questions about the usefulness of the survey–which drew 3,524 respondents–Foster said it was “tricky.”

“I think surveying parents is tricky because even under the best of circumstances you hear from not all the parents, and typically those who are most motivated on whatever side of the issue they’re motivated on,” Foster said, adding that he was “less focused on the survey” and “more focused on putting in place policies that are rational and make sense of the circumstances.”

The board was expected to discuss protocols, including the possibility of vaccine mandates, at an upcoming board meeting. No official date has been set for that hearing.