The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) is trying to help parents and staff members navigate the complicated testing requirements implemented by LA County.
“Determining which test to use on an individual can be complex. We have different sensitive levels of tests,” Superintendent Ben Drati said during the Thursday, Feb. 3, SMMUSD Board of Education meeting. “For example, if a person is on isolation, from receiving a positive test result, the person has the ability to shorten their isolation period from 10 to five days, if they receive a negative antigen test on day five. If that test is positive, the person may return to attempts on day 11. On the other hand, if a person who has not tested positive for COVID begins showing symptoms of illness, they must receive a PCR test.”
Antigen tests, commonly called rapid tests or lateral flow tests, are the type of at-home COVID-19 test available at pharmacies and mailed out by the Federal government (more information on that program is available at covidtests.gov). PCR tests are more accurate but more time consuming; they’re the ones that require laboratory results, and are commonly used at government testing sites.
Drati explained the various testing regulations during a COVID-19 presentation at the board meeting, accompanied by an informational slide that laid out situations where tests may or may not be necessary.
For example, if a student or staffer had a history of a positive result within 90 days and was exposed but was asymptomatic, they did not need a test. If they were exposed and felt symptomatic, they need an antigen test.
For those with new positive results, a negative antigen test could shorten their isolation from 10 days to five after the initial positive result. Those who receive a positive result on a home test need to take a PCR test to confirm.
For those who have not tested positive within the past 90 days, SMMUSD regulations state they must take a PCR test if they are presenting COVID-19 symptoms, whether they have a known contact or not. For students and staff who have not tested positive but believe they have been exposed, a PCR or antigen test may be used.
Vaccination status did not have bearing on any of the testing requirements; however, different rules applied for preschoolers than for other grade levels and ages.
Drati also announced the District would be ceasing daily health screenings at school sites except the Santa Monica based high schools and preschools.
John Adams Middle School Nurse Barrett Gottlieb, whom Drati said had been assigned to focus on COVID-19 protocols for the district, appeared at the meeting to explain why the health screening app was being removed from school sites. Simply put, Gottlieb said, the tool didn’t work.
“The nurses have considered the data from the County and guidance from the Federal level on down to the County and also the interests of our local community. Based on the information that we’ve gathered, not only is it a burden to conduct the screenings at many sites, but we’re not catching anybody using that. It’s not effective,” Gottlieb said. “In the beginning, it may have been an added layer of protection. At this point, it’s only a burden.”
Samohi was planning to continue using the program, due to its “size and density,” Drati explained. The decision, Drati added, was based on a request from school administration.
Drati said he considered the move a turn toward normal, adding the District had also been considering loosening outdoor masking requirements before LA County Public Health tightened rules to require outdoor masking at school sites.
In his presentation, the Superintendent also quashed the rumor that school nurses were endorsing COVID-19 parties, where parents intentionally try to infect their children.
“Obviously that is completely inaccurate,” Drati said, adding, “I just wanted to verify that, but, in fact, it was pretty upsetting [to] our nurses. They were pretty upset by that allegation.”
Drati also addressed allegations that school staff had been abusive toward students who did not follow school COVID protocols. Drati said terms like “abuse” have specific definitions and must be taken seriously.
“For those families who actually do feel their children are being abused, there is a complaint process. I would rather you actually file a formal complaint about somebody saying that they are being abused, we can actually critically look into it, they may even require investigation and things like that to verify things,” Drati said. “There’s a definition for abuse, there’s a definition for assault, there’s a definition for bullying, that we have to adhere to. But us enforcing our rules — we can try to [do it] the best way and be compassionate, but we can’t just ignore it when people are not following rules. We have to address them.”