San Diego Unified School Board unanimously approves vaccine mandates for students and staff

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday evening voted unanimously to recommend mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for all eligible students and district employees.

The vote comes amid fierce backlash from the community and parents.

After hearing from medical professionals and the public, both pro and con, board members approved two recommendations:

— requiring district employees, partners, contractors and other adults who work directly with students and district employees on district property to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 20. The mandate would be a condition of employment and a requirement for contracted services.

— a staggered approach to have all eligible students vaccinated against COVID-19, as a condition of attending in-person learning. The timeline for requiring the mandated vaccination will be aligned with full vaccine approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

RELATED STORY: Large rally held outside SDUSD Board meeting in opposition to vaccine mandates

Mandatory testing will be required for all unvaccinated students until full FDA approval of the vaccine for their age group.

“It could not be more clear that this is the right thing for us to do tonight,” said board President Richard Barrera.

Barrera said it was also very important for the district to ensure that students’ parents and district employees are well-informed about the mandate and important deadlines.

“That level of communication will be absolutely critical as we move forward,” Barrera said.

Board Vice President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said the district has an obligation to keep both students and society safe.

Whitehurst-Payne said she donates to Rotary Club’s efforts to reduce polio rates across the globe.

“I feel the same way about this,” Whitehurst-Payne said, adding that vaccines are a common part of health.

According to a district presentation, there will be a phased approach for students:

— Stage 1: Students age 16 and older would be required to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 20 to participate in in-person classes and extracurricular activities. Those unvaccinated can enroll to learn virtually.

— Stage 2: Students age 12 and older would be required to be fully vaccinated at an undetermined date, depending on the FDA’s full approval; and

— Stage 3: Students age 5 and older would be required to be fully vaccinated at an undetermined date, depending on the FDA’s full approval.

According to the presentation, students eligible for the vaccine, but not vaccinated by established deadlines, will be required to participate in independent study programs. Parental consent will be required for all students under the age of 18.

Students will be afforded the opportunity for medical exemptions, but not one for religion or personal belief.

Certain students may be conditionally enrolled via in-person learning if they are in one of these groups — foster youth, homeless, migrant, military family or those with an individual education plan (for children with a disability identified under the law).

Unvaccinated students will not be permitted to participate in extracurricular activities, unless the student is below the age range of FDA’s full approval or has an exemption.

According to the district, employees will be allowed to use up to two hours of personal business to be vaccinated during their work day, time off for any reaction to the vaccine, and take up to two hours during their work day to take a dependent minor to be vaccinated.

Employees not complying with the district mandate may face disciplinary action, “up to and including termination,” according to the district.

While board members discussed the proposed mandates in a virtual format, a large crowd opposed to any mandate rallied outside the district headquarters, located on Normal Street in the University Heights neighborhood.

During an hourlong public comment period, board members heard 51 people, mainly parents of children attending San Diego Unified schools.

Those in favor stressed the long-term harm COVID-19 poses to children and district employees, while opponents said the coronavirus vaccine isn’t worth the risk.

Dr. Kyle Edmonds, who works for UC San Diego, said vaccine mandates have been common for decades.

San Diego-area resident Wendy Wheatcroft, a mother of three, urged the board not to let “conspiracy theories and anti-government rage” dissuade them from having safer schools.

San Diego resident Mari Magstadt, a mandate opponent, said the board was overstepping its authority.

“As a mother, this is where I draw the line,” she said, “We’ve actually all had COVID and we are fine.”

San Diego resident Steve Welty described himself as pro-vaccine, but anti-mandate and called on the board to produce more science and data to convince skeptical parents.

Welty said the best way to get people vaccinated is “not to force them. Keep it a choice. Many more will chose the shot.”

Last week, a law firm representing Let Them Choose, a splinter group of Let Them Breathe — which opposes mask mandates — sent a letter to the school district asking it to not approve a vaccine mandate.

Sent by the Aannestad, Andelin & Corn firm, based in Cardiff-By-The- Sea, the letter stated that if the district approved a mandate, “Let Them Choose will consider all available options, including a lawsuit to seek an injunction against SDUSD, preventing it from implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate and excluding students who choose to remain unvaccinated.”

Founder of Let Them Breathe, Sharon McKeeman, spoke with KUSI’s Elizabeth Alvarez Wednesday morning following the vote:

San Diego Unified joins school districts in Los Angeles and Oakland that have also recently approved vaccine mandates.

SDUSD Interim Superintendent Lamont Jackson said the district will remain committed to teaching students, even if some can’t be on campus because of their vaccination status.

Despite strong opposition from some parents “my hope is that we as a community can come together,” Jackson said.

“We may not always agree, but we can have healthy discourse,” Jackson said.

Categories: California News, Coronavirus, Health, Local San Diego News, Politics