Some California parents are pushing back on Governor Gavin Newsom’s first-in-the-nation requirement that all eligible students be vaccinated for COVID-19 to attend in-person classes.
On Monday, spurred by a social media campaign, parents in Orange County and up to Sacramento held rallies and kept their children home from school to protest the mandate. Teachers and school staff were also encouraged to walk out.
“We know that if our children stay home from school that that will impact the funding that schools will get for that day,” Babe Prieto, a parent supporting the protest, told a Bay Area TV station. “And we want them to know that we’re serious about not being forced to vaccinate our children.”
“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,” Governor Newsom said in a press release regarding his Oct. 1 announcement. “Vaccines work,” Newsom said. “It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates.”
California’s student vaccine mandate takes effect after the COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for each age group.
Right now, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has full F.D.A approval for people 16 and older. It’s approved for emergency use for 12-15 year olds. On Oct. 26, an F.D.A. advisory panel is due to discuss granting emergency authorization of a lower-dose version of the Pfizer vaccine for use in kids 5-11.
It’s estimated shots would be required for 7th-12th graders by July 1, 2022, according to the Governor’s office.
Medical, religious and personal belief exemptions are permitted but state lawmakers are reportedly eyeing removing the personal exemption as they did for the other vaccine requirements to attend school.
Some LAUSD schools see increased absences
It’s not clear exactly how many people at Los Al USD’s nine campuses participated in Monday’s protest.
In an email sent Monday afternoon, Superintendent Dr. Andrew Pulver wrote: “Four of our schools experienced about a 10% increase in absences today. We had two schools with an increased absence rate between 7-8% and three schools with similar absences to a slight absence increase.”
Los Alamitos High School teacher Drew Sells said 17.5% of his students were absent. On a normal day, there would be up to 5% missing his biology class.
“It is sad that parents are trying to penalize our schools for what has been a long accepted practice of mandating vaccines,” Sells wrote in a text message. “The politics of this one [vaccine] is sowing division and harming our schools.”
“I think that whether we had many or a few students/parents participate, it is very important to ask for more input from our community as we move forward with the issue before us regarding vaccination mandates,” Los Al Unified trustee Chris Forehan wrote in an email. “I encourage parents to contact their [state] legislator who ultimately will set the course.”
Mandate discussed at School Board meeting
Monday’s actions came less than a week after parents opposed to the mandate rallied outside Los Al Unified’s district offices and spoke at the Board of Education meeting.
“People should be able to choose what they want to do with their bodies,” said Lauren Roupoli, a parent who helped organize the Oct. 12 protest.
During the board meeting that evening, President Marlys Davidson and Vice President Diana Hill expressed personal views about the vaccine mandate.
Hill stressed that she wants to serve all families and has heard from many concerned parents. She said the board lacks local control over the mandate and suggested parents, no matter what they believe, contact the Governor and state lawmakers to voice their opinion.
“They have to hear what parents really want and feel. And so personally, I plan on writing [to] my representatives every week,” Hill said.
“Of course, we can ask for no statewide mandate, but I think secondarily, we really need to make sure that the exemptions that currently are in place, which is a personal exemption or religious or medical reason exemptions, we really need to ask those to remain in place no matter what happens,” she said.
Davidson shared her reservations about the possibility of her young grandchild being vaccinated. But she said she’s not advocating one position and wants to work with the public.
“That may be the solution we want,” she said of the vaccine mandate. “I’m not saying one way or the other but we need to come together and look at solutions rather than standing on opposite sides and just screaming at each other.”
During public comment after trustees spoke, a handful of parents shared their viewpoints.
“I’m excited to hear that you want to work with us to make Newsom take back this mandate because it is not an American thing to do to force somebody to do something against their strongly held religious convictions,” parent Laura Tanner told the board.
“Stand up for parents who would like to decline this particular medical treatment for their kids,” a mother told trustees and added, “For many parents, I just want to tell you that this is their hill. This is their hill [to die on].”
A mother and Los Al graduate told the board she got a COVID-19 vaccine but does not want to vaccinate her own young child. “It needs to be a choice. It does not need to be mandated. There are other things that we could do as far as mitigating the risks.”
It’s not clear how many Los Al Unified students and staff have already been inoculated against COVID-19. The Orange County Health Care Agency reports 67% of people aged 12-17 in the county have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
“Widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the pandemic,” reads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The CDC encourages eligible children to get vaccinated and says although fewer kids have been sickened by COVID-19 compared to adults, kids can still be infected, become ill and spread the virus to others.
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