COVID-19 screenings soon to be ‘off-ramped’ at Santa Monica/Malibu schools

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District administration office in Santa Monica, California. Photo by Samantha Bravo.

Overall, falling COVID cases align with Los Angeles County numbers

Despite a bump in cases at Malibu Middle and Malibu High School, daily health screenings for coronavirus infections, including temperature checks, are about to be “off-ramped,” according to officials of the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District. The overall swift decrease in active COVID-19 cases among staff and students in the district prompted the SMMUSD Board of Education to direct staff to phase out the health checks conducted before entering campuses. The general falling positive number of cases falls in line with a declining case rate in Los Angeles County, which prompted the relaxation of daily health evaluations. The Board of Education made its decision to phase out health screenings on Feb. 3 before the latest data was posted, showing an increase from three to ten cases at MHS last week and now two new cases at Malibu Middle. Webster Elementary posted just one case, and Malibu Elementary has no reported cases this week, falling from two the previous weekly reporting period.

When exactly the four Malibu public schools phase out the daily health screenings, however, will be up to the four Malibu Principals, according to the district’s Director of Student Services, Tara Brown. “Principals will inform parents and staff about when this will occur at their school. Please be on the lookout for a communication from your Principal regarding the plan for your school.”

The change comes swiftly as it was just over a month ago that in-person instruction was delayed one day at MHS following winter break due to skyrocketing cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Under recommendation from the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, it was advised that MHS have distance learning for one day. At least 60 kids at Malibu schools tested positive that first week in January. Each week COVID data is posted at There were complaints about a lag in data posted on the dashboard, and now it contains a disclaimer noting that the data is posted once a week, every Sunday. To speed up results, the district is now using a new lab, and with diminishing cases, it’s hoped inundated labs will be relieved of an overabundance of tests to process. “We’re getting our results in a more-timely matter now,” said Gail Pinsker, Community and Public Relations Officer for SMMUSD. “We’re relying on three sources for this data,” It’s coming from our two medical testing providers, parents self-reporting, and from those testing at our response hubs. One is at Malibu Elementary School and one at John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica.” Those testing hubs are used by staff or students who had previously tested positive and need a negative test to return to campus.

Roughly 200 students in the district chose not to return to in-person learning this year and are enrolled in an independent study program offered by SMMUSD. The independent study program uses different teachers for each grade level and is separate from in-person instruction. The remote learning takes place on Zoom.

Quarantine rules for in-person learners and staff have relaxed in recent weeks. While those who test positive still have to stay home, the isolation period is now just five days. Then an infected person can retest and, if negative, may return to school. If somebody is exposed to the virus but does not have any symptoms and tests negative, they are allowed to stay in school.

Daily health screenings may be phasing out at the earliest this week, but weekly coronavirus testing continues at all SMMUSD schools. The district is also following the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recommends that students, staff, and teachers wear masks both indoors and outdoors.