LAUSD approves resolution; takes a stand on vaccine mandate

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Los Alamitos USD parent Matthew Simmons speaks against California’s proposed Covid-19 vaccine mandate for students at the Jan. 11, 2022 Board of Education meeting. Photo: David N. Young

The Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education has taken a public stance on California Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed Covid-19 vaccine mandate for students at K-12 schools.

In a 4-1 vote at its Jan. 11 meeting, the board approved a two-page resolution that “strongly urges” California’s elected officials to keep “medical, religious, and personal belief exemptions” in place if a proposed Covid-19 vaccine mandate for students and employees takes effect.

The resolution also states the district will “continue to adhere to California Department of Public Health and Orange County Health Care Agency public health guidance requirements for K-12 schools.”

The resolution is largely symbolic as the school board does not have the authority to change State mandates.

Trustees voting in favor of the resolution said the goal is to send a message to state lawmakers that represents the perspectives of the community.

That means balancing the views of district parents who said they want to have a choice on whether to vaccinate their school-age children against Covid-19 with the views of parents supportive of the State’s measures.

The resolution refers to parents and employees who have “expressed a desire for exemptions to be in place” and also “acknowledges the view of parents and employees who have expressed support to adopt” Covid-19 vaccine requirements for eligible staff and students. (You can find the resolution on the Jan. 11 meeting agenda at Item 13.a. at losal.org.)

“We felt that, at this point with the data we have, parents should have choices if this becomes a mandate but we are not health experts and we are going to follow the guidance that is sent down by the CDPH and OCHCA,” Board President Diana Hill said in a phone interview on Saturday.

Hill requested that the resolution be created back in November after hearing from parents wanting the board to take action.

“The desire of this resolution is to make sure that we … have the strongest voice that we can go forward for all of our parents, and so we can influence our state officials,” Hill said at the Jan. 11 meeting.

This all comes in response to Gov. Newsom’s announcement last October of plans to require students to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to attend in-person classes at K-12 campuses.

The mandate would take effect only after the vaccine gains full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a student’s age group. Right now, only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has full FDA approval for people 16 and older.

Unlike the shots California students are currently required to have to attend school, as it stands now, the Covid-19 vaccine mandate would allow for a personal belief exemption, which Gov. Newsom pointed out during an appearance on a national news show last month.

State lawmakers could pass legislation to eliminate the personal belief exemption and that is part of the motivation for issuing the resolution now, according to some board members.

Board members explain their positions 

Scott Fayette was the only trustee to vote against adopting the resolution.

During the board’s discussion, Fayette said that the mandate was not yet official and the earliest it could impact students is next school year. “I think to act on this resolution is premature,” he said. He also said the resolution currently falls outside the “purview” of the board.

“I’m not a doctor, nor do I believe I am to make choices for parents on whether to vaccinate or not,” Vice President Chris Forehan said at the board meeting. “This resolution states very clearly … that as a board we believe in-person instruction is invaluable. We support vaccine exemptions, and that we will follow the rules set out through our legislature. The resolution is aligned with what the governor’s current stance is. He has not mandated anything.”

In an email to Spotlight Schools, trustee Megan Cutuli wrote: “I personally support vaccines but one of my core values as a board member is that parents know their children.” She encouraged parents to speak to a trusted health care professional about the vaccines.

Trustees Cutuli, Forehan and Marlys Davidson also expressed concerns that there is no plan for how to meet the educational needs of students who do not get vaccinated under a mandate.

“If we are going to remove unvaccinated students from our classrooms, then funds need to be provided for a district orchestrated online program in order to ensure the … best possible education for all of our students,” Davidson said.

“To me I feel that one of my main jobs is to make sure that I’m giving parents the choice that they asked for for their students,” President Hill said at the Jan. 11 meeting, speaking via Zoom from her home due to being on quarantine.

This was the second time the board discussed the resolution. At their Dec. 14, 2021 meeting, trustees asked for more time to gather input from the community.

There was one difference between the resolution discussed last month and the one adopted on Jan. 11, 2022.

In the adopted resolution, language specifying the district would adhere to public health guidance followed the portion urging support for exemptions.

Similar language about the district’s responsibility to cooperate with public health officers was in the Dec. 14 version, but it was in another part of the resolution.

Some parents upset that resolution states district will adhere to guidance 

For weeks, a vocal group of parents has pushed back on the proposal to add the Covid-19 vaccine to the list of shots students are required to get to attend school.

Some of those parents were at the Jan. 11 meeting. Fifteen people addressed the board during public comment which was held prior to the vote. All of them spoke out against a Covid-19 vaccine mandate and in support of exemptions saying they want to have a choice.

“The state mandate, while promoting the greater good, does not have years of science behind the decision,” said one speaker who emphasized that she wants to be able to make medical decisions for her family.

Other parents urged the board to take a more defiant stance toward the state.

“Will you stand for choice supporting exemptions allowing families the opportunity to evaluate risk for their children? Or will you default to the state supporting immoral mandates?” said Kristina Bowden, a parent who said her son attends Lee Elementary in Rossmoor.

Bowden and others said they would pull their kids out of the school district if the vaccines were required.

Matthew Simmons, a parent of two students in the district, opposes the Covid-19 vaccine mandate and supports exemptions but was opposed to the resolution. In a recent phone interview, he said the language saying the district would adhere to public health guidance “weakened” its message.

“In a way, this resolution hurts us. The ask for the exemptions was a humble request. But the comply was a statement; it was the opposite of a request,” Simmons said.

In a phone interview, President Hill disagreed and said the language was included in the resolution “to make sure that we were once again clear that we are not the public health experts.”

She added, some parents “wanted us to stand up to the State; say if there’s a mandate we won’t follow it. And that was not what our board was going to do.”

“We are a State agency and we must follow State guidance and we will,” Cutuli wrote in an email.

At the meeting, and in interviews and emails, trustees said that they had heard from parents with a wide range of perspectives. President Hill said she heard feedback from more people in support of exemptions. Cutuli said more people in favor of the mandate reached out to her.

“Yes, at the Board meeting the voices heard were for providing parent choice for a vaccine, however prior to the meeting the voices of many others were heard via social media, emails, conversations and documents dropped off for me to read at my house that did not feel parents should have a choice,” Forehan wrote in an email to Spotlight Schools.

In a phone interview on Saturday, Fayette said he hopes the board can focus on other issues centered on students. “The resolution passed,” he said. “It’s done. We need to get back to the business of the Board.”

At the meeting, Hill said the resolution represents what the board is saying to lawmakers today based on what parents have expressed. She said that if “something dramatic happens in the future,” the resolution could be revisited.

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LAUSD approves resolution; takes a stand on vaccine mandate