Last week on February 16, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District finalized and submitted an application to the California Energy Commission’s CALSHAPE program for a $1.61 million grant to install MERV-13 filters (temporarily) and carbon dioxide detectors at schools across the district and analyze the costs and possibilities of using these filters full-time. 

Over the summer, the district switched back to using the air filters it used pre-pandemic citing the cost of maintaining its air circulation system as the larger filters cause more frequent breakdowns. A group of parents has been pushing back and has demanded the district find the resources to switch back to the filters used during the pandemic to maintain the cleanest possible air for students. For full coverage of the debate on the air filters, click here or here.

Earlier this month, SMMUSD also released a “request for qualifications” for an outside contractor to install the filters and complete the other requirements of the grant. SMMUSD believes that it can receive final word on the grant and select a contractor at its March 20 Board of Education meeting.

But this good news was almost delayed. In November of last year, the state reviewed a preliminary proposal from the school district and announced it had pre-qualified for the $1.61 million grant. 

However, the SMMUSD had to submit a final application and believed they had in January, as they stated in public meetings and at the Santa Monica Democratic Club meeting. However, a “communications error” caused the paperwork to not be properly submitted, an error that was noticed and pursued by parent-activist Deanne Ozaki who has spearheaded the effort for the city to return to using MERV-13 filters. 

The CEC generally takes weeks, not months, to approve CALSHAPE grants as most of the work is done in the pre-approval phase. If they are able to move swiftly again, the paperwork error shouldn’t impact SMMUSD’s timeline to select a contractor and bring back the MERV-13 filters, at least temporarily, before the end of the school year.

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