State: Students must get vaccine
October 18, 2021
California is the first state in the nation that will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend in-person school.
On Oct. 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the COVID-19 vaccine would be added to the list of vaccinations required to attend school.
“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella — there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19,” said Newsom, in a news release. “Vaccines work. It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates.”
The requirement would go into effect at the start of the next term (Jan. 1 or July 1) once the vaccine receives full Food and Drug Administration approval for all ages in a grade span. Full approval for ages 12 and up corresponds to the 7-12 grade span, and full approval of ages 5-11 corresponds to the K-6 grade span. Currently, COVID vaccines are fully approved for only ages 16 and up.
Officials in Newsom’s office estimated that the 7-12 grade span vaccine mandate would likely take effect July 1, 2022, however they could not estimate a timeline for the K-6 span.
The announcement follows five districts — Culver City Unified, LAUSD, Oakland USD, Piedmont USD and San Diego USD — that have already approved their own vaccine requirements for students.
Newsom announced changes to staff vaccine requirements as well. While K-12 staff can currently undergo weekly COVID testing in lieu of vaccination, the governor has also directed that the “test or verify” requirement be converted to a full vaccine mandate once the first vaccine mandate for students becomes effective.
Administrators expressed concerns about the mandate during ACSA’s Legislative Lunch Break program Oct. 6, including over how to accommodate a possible influx of families opting for independent study, lack of local control, and staffing shortages that may result from the staff vaccine mandate. Some also said they have experienced an increase in protestors at school board meetings since the mandate announcement.
“This conversation is playing out very differently depending what communities you’re in and what are the underlying circumstances,” said ACSA Senior Director of Governmental Relations Edgar Zazueta during the program.
Guests on the Legislative Lunch Break took questions and explained the rationale behind the new mandate. Current school-based mitigation strategies, such as masking and staff vaccinations, have made California schools among the safest in the nation, said Ben Chida, Chief Deputy Cabinet Secretary from Newsom’s office.
But implementing these mitigation strategies has been extremely taxing work for administrators, Chida said. This mandate would get them back to the “exciting work” of serving students’ social-emotional, mental health and academic needs, he said.
“We don’t want to have to be constantly worrying about testing, or ventilation or masking,” he said. ”The governor wants to mark the clear path — the light at the end of the tunnel — that will help us get out of this frankly miserable situation that we are all in, in which we are constantly scrambling to try to adjust to this incredibly dynamic and hard-to-control virus.”
Chida said the governor’s statewide mandate also took the onus off LEAs to have to debate this issue in local school board meetings across more than 1,000 districts.
Regarding exemptions, Brooks Allen, executive director, California State Board of Education, said students with personal belief and medical exemptions will be permitted to enroll in school, as allowed in existing California statute. However, he acknowledged that the Legislature could decide to change the law.
Students who do not meet the vaccine mandate or qualify for an exemption will be directed to independent study. Staff vaccine exemptions are governed by employment law, Allen said, which has a separate exemption.
Dr. Sohil Sud, M.D., lead with California Safe Schools for All, shared on the program that he expects there to be continued conversations with parents about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. He said COVID vaccines are “resoundingly” safe, as shown by the 1.7 million children ages 12-17 who are already are fully vaccinated in California.
“Vaccines are our ticket to normalcy because they are our ticket to safety,” he said. “No vaccine in history has received this much scrutiny.”
Sud, a pediatrician, shared that while he has had patients who have experienced mild reactions from the COVID vaccine, he has also had a young patient die from the coronavirus.
“Nationally, ... about 400 school-age children have died from [COVID-19], but that’s 400 too many, and particularly when we have a way to prevent that,” he said. “Even though complications can be less common in children, I have no hesitation that the vaccination is the right choice for all those who are eligible.”
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