13 School District Employees Fired After Refusing COVID-19 Vaccinations

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Fourteen employees of the Santa Monica Malibu school district were fired during the Thursday, Nov. 18, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education meeting.

On Friday, spokesperson Gail Pinsker confirmed nearly all of the terminations were due to employees’ non-compliance with vaccine mandates that went into effect on Oct. 1 for staff of the Santa Monica-based school district.

“I can confirm that 13 dismissals were due to refusal to be vaccinated, which is now a term of employment,” Pinsker wrote in an email.

According to information disclosed during the meeting, the 13 were charged with violating the state education code, which allows a school district to fire staff for cause.

The terminations included a Malibu High School groundskeeper who was let go over the mandatory vaccination requirement.

One teacher was also let go, though there was no word on what caused that. 

A representatives for the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers’ Association, which represents “the employee groups: Child Development Teachers, Early Childhood Teachers, K-12 Teachers, Speech/Language Pathologists, Counselors, Librarians, Adult Education Teachers, Substitute Teachers, Nurses and other non-administrative positions within the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District,” wrote that the dismissals were “classified employees”—not teachers.

“The reality is that we did not lose that many members due to the vaccine mandate,” Claudia Bautista-Nicholas, SMMCTA president, wrote in an email on Wednesday. “I think the total number may be four out of more than 500 teachers. I know that each person that leaves a site seems like a big blow, but teachers are great supporters of the vaccines. As a Union, we support vaccines for all that are eligible, masking at school and testing. This has kept most of our students healthy and  learning in person and that is what we all want in the end.”

At the Thursday meeting, no move was made to require vaccines for kids—a topic of continuing debate in the district.

SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati again urged parents of kids ages five and up to get their children vaccinated. 

The school district has hired nurses to administer COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, Dec. 1, in Malibu. The follow-up shots will be administered in Malibu on both Wednesday, Dec. 22, and Thursday, Jan. 6.

Dec. 22 is after Christmas break starts, so the second clinic on Jan. 6 is designed for families who are out of town.

The school district will offer the shots to anyone in the community, no matter if they have kids in the schools or not. 

Public schools here are still requiring their kids to wear masks, whether they are vaccinated or not, in line with countywide mask mandates. The district will soon be sending out a survey on safety protocols to middle and high school parents.

Voting district lawsuit may present obstacle for independence

A Malibu lawyer with a penchant for stirring up local politics may have done it again.

Kevin Shenkman wants to split the SMMUSD into seven voting districts.

Shenkman is taking advantage of a new state law that allows the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) to carve a school district up into voting districts.

The petition needs 500 signatures from voters in Santa Monica and Malibu.

One of the major arguments made by Malibu independent school district advocates is that Santa Monica voters outweigh Malibu and make it nearly impossible for Malibu residents to win election to the board, but a guaranteed seat may undermine that argument.

The story was broken by the Santa Monica Lookout newspaper.

Schenkman told theLookout that five of the seven current school board members live in the wealthiest neighborhood of Santa Monica.

Carving Santa Monica into six districts and presumably leaving Malibu in the seventh district would give a voice to minority neighborhoods in the south part of Santa Monica.

Schenkman has made a name for himself, suing city councils up and down California and winning lucrative payoffs to avoid lawsuits over voting rights.

He has a successful record of forcing many small cities to adopt district voting to increase representation by minority voters.

His district voting lawsuit against the Santa Monica City Council is currently on appeal; if Shenkman wins there, that potentially precedent-setting decision could force the City of Malibu to be cut into five districts as well, with residents able to elect only one council member to represent their neighborhood.

In 2020, attorney Milton Grimes threatened the City of Malibu with litigation under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 that would force the city to move to district elections. Grimes and Shenkman have worked together on similar cases around California. 

Schenkman told the Lookout that carving the SMMUSD into seven voting districts could happen within a year, versus the decades that it is taken versus the multiyear process, it would take to split Malibu out of the Santa Monica-based district.  

A version of this story was first broadcast on KBUU News. This web version replaces a previous news brief.