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Scott Steepleton, Editor
11:27 am PST February 22, 2021

Roui Israel’s voice is pained when she recounts a recent meeting of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District where some 50 parents expressed desperation for the reopening of schools and shared stories of children discussing taking their own lives because they’ve been out of school for a year.

That pain turned to anger when she shared the administration’s response.

“So many kids talking about killing themselves and there was no comment,” the 43-year-old mother of two told Surfside News. “It was very heartbreaking.”

With districts all around returning to something resembling a normal school program, the district that oversees Malibu schools is nowhere near doing the same.

The reason?

“The teachers unions,” said Israel. “The unions are digging their heels in and want to wait until they have access to the vaccine.”

Indeed, the district and the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association reached a deal for keeping schools at a “plussed” district learning model for elementary schools until coronavirus case rates in Los A Angeles County drop to a certain level and teachers have access for 15 days to the vaccine.

The first criteria was met last week. Still, despite the CDC saying elementary teachers don’t need to be vaccinated for schools to open, the Ben Drati administration agreed to the union’s demand. When those doses would actually be available is a moving target, although sign ups could begin March 1.  

“Despite reaching this milestone, teachers are refusing to return to the classrooms in the SMMUSD until they have their vaccines,” said Israel.

Israel, an active school volunteer with children at Malibu Elementary and Malibu Middle schools, also called out the California Teachers Association and its recent “Safety First” ads and their focus on teachers being vaccinated first as “false propaganda.”

Having taken part in local meetings about reopening last year, Israel noted that vaccines for teachers never came up.

“But last week all of a sudden it surfaced,” she said. “Grocery store workers were always working. They didn’t have vaccines. All these other school districts are going back and their teachers didn’t get vaccines.”

For all the surveys and meetings about how SMMUSD schools should reopen, it’s still unclear when students will return because Drati, the superintendent, says he doesn’t know what things will look like then. For example, if social distancing is still required, the district doesn’t have that kind of space.

“It’s not good enough to say ‘I don’t know,’” Israel said.

Doctors, immunologists, ICU nurses and other healthcare professionals with children have all explained to the Board of Education that the science is clear, said Israel, that COVID “does not spread in schools especially at the elementary school years.”

For Malibu mother of five Tara Buran, enough is enough.

She’s asking state Sen. Henry Stern, D-Calabasas, for an emergency meeting to ensure that her children and the rest in her town are not being held down by Santa Monica-centric concerns.

“This is an unprecedented time with COVID and distance learning. Therefore, laws and rules can be adjusted under this so-called ‘state of academic emergency,’” Buran said.

“Superintendent Ben Drati should be the leader and tell the principals what needs to be done at each school,” she said. “We don’t need to form a council at each school to figure out what needs to be done.”

Without leadership from the superintendent and the board, Buran added, parents get frustrated.

“I love our teachers, but we’re (in a) stranglehold by the umbrella of SMMUSD and the teachers union,” Buran said. “If you don’t have a handle on what needs to be done, stop telling people we might be going back, because, at the end of the day, you’re just hurting the children by not taking the approach of leadership.”