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Scott Steepleton, Editor
9:42 am PST February 26, 2021

A mother of three has created a Facebook group for families in favor of reopening Malibu elementary schools in the fall free from district policies weighted toward Santa Monica.

Confusion abounds when it comes to getting schools back to pre-pandemic operations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers universal guidelines, with the state adding its own. From there, Los Angeles County has protocols it says must be met, then the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has its own, including holding off until, among other things, teachers have access to a vaccine for at least two weeks, something the CDC says is not necessary.

Last week, the districts and teachers agreed on a learning model called Distance Learning Plus that includes “bringing students to school sites for on-site/in-person activities while continuing effective remote distance learning.”

According to the parties, the agreement “seeks to balance having on-site/in-person academic, physical and social-emotional learning experiences, while not disadvantaging students who remain at home.”

That might be great for Santa Monica, but Malibu isn’t Santa Monica, says Heather Alfano, 39, an ICU nurse at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center and co-founder of Back to School Bu, a private Facebook page for families in favor of opening local schools.

In its first couple of days, the group had more than 130 members.

Alfano sees room for innovative thinking that makes use of what Malibu campuses already have to offer.

“One of the biggest hurdles is we are linked up with Santa Monica, and they have a different environment there,” she told Surfside News. “We need to be able to look at school sites.”

For example, Malibu has lots of space, which might make for great outdoor classrooms. And with enrollment down, Alfano added, there is plenty of room indoors to keep kids and staff safely separated.

The hurdle there, however, is that distancing guidelines are based on capacity rather than enrollment. But Alfano says if enrollment essentially meets the reduced capacity guidelines, a campus should be able to open with proper spacing, barriers and other safety protocols in place.

“There’s so much open land in Malibu and enrollment is low,” she said. “There are great ways for us to be innovative.”

Rules governing Back to School Bu include no teacher or district bashing. “We don’t have the pick-up and drop-off area to chat, so it’s a place for parents to come together,” she said. “These relationships are really important.”

Like others, Alfano says computer learning is not the best alternative for every child.

“Parents here don’t want their kids in front of computers. This is a healthy, outdoor community.”

The vaccine demands by the local teachers union, Alfano added, “don’t make a lot of sense.” Access to the vaccine doesn’t mean everyone actually gets it — or wants it.

“There will be people who don’t want it. And there will be people who won’t get it in time.”

The protocols for both vaccines now in use call for a second dose about four weeks after the first. So even for teachers who get a shot when they become available on March 1, the second dose won’t be available for about a month.

“I want to keep the teachers safe,” Alfano said, “but the rollout could be an HR nightmare.”

Not everyone wants to return to school, Alfano admitted. “But I think there are plenty who want to. And if we’re going to open in the fall, we need to start now.”

“Opening schools is for the greater good for all of these kids.”