Updated: Malibu Public Schools Begin Mandatory Weekly COVID-19 Testing

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[Update, Sept. 8:] As of Wednesday, Sept. 8, there were a total of three Malibu students/staff quarantining following districtwide COVID-19 testing. Across the district, 489 students/staff were in quarantine as of Wednesday, with the vast majority of those coming from Samohi (265) and John Adams Middle School (95), both in Santa Monica. 

Malibu public schools began a program of weekly mandatory COVID-19 testing of all students and staff on Aug. 30 and 31—nearly two weeks after the school year began Aug. 19 with indoor/outdoor masking required.

In a written report provided by Malibu High School Principal Patrick Miller and Malibu Middle School Principal Melisa Andino to The Malibu Times, the educators described the testing roll-out as successful.

“Malibu Middle School and Malibu High School had a successful first day of testing on Tuesday, August 31,” the report stated. “Approximately 85% of our students and families had navigated the registration process successfully and were able to test today. As a result of the SMMUSD decision to require weekly screening testing, we are hopeful that all remaining students and families will register by next week. At a certain date, we are being told that only those students participating in the testing program, submitting their own outside PCR test in line with our schedule, or those with an approved exemption will be able to continue in our traditional, in-person schooling.”

The principals wrote that shallow nasal swab testing was self-administered by students under the supervision of Malibu Medical Group, adding, “We were able to rotate classes, and most classes took under 10 minutes which helped to minimize the disruption. Overall, I would say it went really well.”

The statement concluded: “Both of us really hope our kids and families know that we care about each of them and are hopeful that these additional health and safety measures help us be able to keep our on-campus schooling going with minimal disruptions.”

When asked if there were any problems so far, the educators said no, but that “it has been an additional logistical challenge at an already busy time of the year, starting school.” 

Although LA County health protocols only require schools to provide testing for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, SMMUSD and the school board decided to go above and beyond that with a weekly testing regimen for everyone—a massive undertaking for a district with about 9,000 students and 1,300 staff members. The district believes weekly testing will help prevent the spread of the disease and help ensure that the in-person 2021-22 school year continues uninterrupted.

A statement released by Supt. Ben Drati on Aug. 11 said, “As superintendent, if I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we have been overly cautious … in the face of this new Delta variant. I must also … maximize and maintain the continuity of learning by doing our best to keep students and staff on campus throughout this journey.”

In time, those who do not participate in the program, undergo their own testing or gain approval for a waiver will reportedly be given distance learning packets—Zoom classrooms are a thing of the past—and sent home. Some district parents have raised concerns about the testing program, including questions about privacy after being asked to sign consent forms to allow the district to share information including Social Security numbers, with multiple testing entities. 

According to one parent who reached out to The Malibu Times,  Catherine Brickman, parents were also concerned that the weekly testing regimen would be considered “surveillance testing” rather than clinical “individual diagnostic testing” and may therefore not be covered by parents’ insurance companies.

There were reportedly petitions being circulated in some schools, including Webster Elementary, requesting the district adopt what parents were calling a “legal and ethical testing program.”

Although the very first round of weekly testing was just getting started at Malibu schools, the live online SMMUSD COVID Dashboard had COVID-19 data to report. One Malibu student or staff member, at Webster Elementary, has tested positive and a total of 28 students and/or staffers throughout Malibu’s four schools were in quarantine as of Tuesday, Aug. 31—an action that is taken when they have been in contact with someone who tests positive or after some travel. Three individuals were in isolation (due to COVID-like symptoms and/or a positive test). Individuals are counted until they are cleared by the school nurse.

To view the dashboard visit: www.smmusd.org/Page/6297.

If a student or staff member is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, they will be given a Biofire 2.1 test by the school nurse, which takes a deep sample at the back of the nose and checks for 18 different pathogens, including COVID-19, flu, and various other viruses.

“These are the most common [pathogens] that cause respiratory symptoms. Rhinovirus is particularly important [because it’s the] common cold,” Tara Brown, director of student services, told the Santa Monica Daily Press. “If somebody just has a common cold, we don’t need to quarantine the whole class.”

Two medical partners have been engaged by the school district to initiate and manage the complex testing program—Doctor Now and Malibu Medical Group/CURE. The Malibu Medical Group will be doing the testing for all four Malibu schools: Malibu and Webster elementary schools, Malibu Middle School and Malibu High School.

The school nurse at each school, in partnership with LA County Department of Public Health, will be involved with contact tracing, determining exposure and notifying close contacts.

The school district allows families to request an exemption from masking and/or testing based on religious grounds, disability, medical condition, mental health condition or hearing condition that prevents their child from participating.

The anticipated costs of SMMUSD COVID-19 testing will be covered by an LA County Office of Education (LACOE) grant of $1.8 million. Insurance companies will be billed and the government will reimburse for uninsured individuals. However, the district also expects an additional $110,000 in costs for the school year.