Beyond Malibu High, Students Find Alternatives

One month has passed since classes resumed at Malibu High School, and while students have settled into their old routines, many of their former classmates are still transitioning into new schools.

Although school officials state that enrollment has increased since the 2013-14 school year, over a dozen Malibu kids did not return to the halls of MHS this fall, citing fears over PCB contamination. 

“I’m just not willing to take that risk that my son could be exposed to something when I knowingly have reason to pull him out,” said Donna Source. 

Source’s son Luke is now attending seventh grade at AE Wright Middle School in Calabasas, after Source applied for and received an interdistrict permit for him to leave the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

In October 2013, Malibu High and Middle School teachers first expressed fear that thyroid cancer and thyroid disease among faculty could be traced to carcinogens in the high school. Since that time, there has been concern surrounding safety at the school’s campus.

Source claims that because of possible contamination in various areas around the Middle School, Luke was often shuttled between permanent classrooms, portable classrooms and the nearby Methodist Church. 

“In like sixth grade, I didn’t really learn that much, I just did the best I could,” Luke said.

The transition to the new school environment has been pretty smooth, according to Luke.

“I’ve made a lot of friends really easily, and it’s a really comfortable environment, but it’s a lot of work,” Luke added.

While making friends at AE Wright was easy for Luke, not all students who left have had the same luck.

“I’m struggling to stay social,” said 10th-grader Christian Lucas, who left MHS over his doctor cautioning that his childhood cancer could return because of PCB exposure. Lucas now attends Laurel Springs, a private online school, where he takes lessons at home.

“I’m still texting my friends to see if we can get together because I still want to stay in contact with them — but i don’t have the ability to hang out with them five days a week anymore,” Lucas added.

However, much like Luke, Christian feels that his education has benefited from the new program.

“From what I can tell, I’m going to be able to pace myself a lot better,” Lucas said of his new school, although he added, “I miss some of the great teachers who could inspire you. I had a fair share of really good teachers.”

Nine Malibu students who left MHS have formed what is being called a “micro-school,” a learning group officially known as IQ Academy LA. The students are all in 7th grade and meet together to learn every day.

“I like it because it’s with a lot of intelligent people so the school is really focused on learning which is really nice,” said Gabi Williams, a student at IQ Academy LA. 

The MHS diaspora has had a diversity of experiences since not returning to Malibu High this fall, but most of them have one thing in common: concern for those students who decided to stay.

“I’m sad my friends are there because I don’t want any of my friends to get sick,” Sami deNicola, another IQ Academy LA student, said.

Luke agreed.

“I get why some of them have to go there, if it works with their parents or something like that, but I wish they’d come to this school,” Luke said.

For Lucas, the emotions hit closer to home. His younger sister, Amanda, still attends MHS. 

“I feel scared for her, almost, because we know she’s in rooms that could have carcinogens in it, and it could be damaging to her,” Lucas said, “I was there in ninth grade, and I could have been damaged. If I was, I don’t want her to be.”

According to SMMUSD officials, who cite data from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the schools are safe for Malibu students and teachers. Air and wipe samples have been tested across the campus, but many in Malibu, including the Malibu City Council, have demanded the district test building materials such as caulk. 

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