SMMUSD is considering a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for college students with a formal vote scheduled somewhere in the second week of October.
The decision followed an intense public debate on the subject, which included personal threats against Superintendent Ben Drati, numerous references to various government codes, and analogies to several points in history where civil liberties were at stake.
This week’s debate took place during a discussion point and was not a formal vote on the introduction of a vaccine. Instead, the Board requested a special session on the subject that would include a full analysis of the subject. The decision to hold a formal vote was backed 6-1, with Craig Foster as the only opponent.
Several board members agreed that Governor Gavin Newsom and the state of California must make the vaccine mandatory, as the state’s leadership has currently left that to the individual school authorities.
“I think the state should pass the vaccines bill for COVID-19,” said board member Jennifer Smith. “I have a problem in the sense that there seems to be a precedent for different vaccine statuses in different counties in the state of California.”
The board majority also said they felt the need to protect the entire community with the mandate and keep the schools open. They pointed out that schooling requires different vaccinations and that people need to be vaccinated before new varieties emerge that jeopardize the effectiveness of current vaccines.
“Vaccines, masking and testing will allow children to stay in classrooms instead of wasting time outside of the classroom quarantining and being sick,” said School Board President Jon Kean.
Foster, the only opponent of a vaccination mandate, stated that it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the school board to make a permanent health decision for someone. He said he personally endorsed vaccines but cautioned against the government’s excess in requiring them for students.
“And it just happens over and over again,” said Foster. “Americans are ready to give up precious freedoms in order to prevent the fear of the day. Personally, I absolutely don’t want to contribute to sticking a needle in someone else’s arm. “
Much of the public comment disapproved of the COVID-19 mandate.
“A vaccine is supposed to prevent serious illnesses. So since children don’t get seriously ill with COVID, I think we need to raise this vaccine to a much higher bar, ”said Heather Alfano. “In the Pfizer study, which recently came out with the lower dose of the vaccine between ages five and 11, only 2,200 students or children were involved in the study, which is not a lot of data. I really don’t think it’s okay to prescribe a vaccine when we’re definitely still collecting data for this first round. It has to be a decision parents can make for themselves. It can’t be something that comes from you. This is not a health department. “
The local discussion came when several districts were issuing mandates or considering mandates.
Oakland Unified was the first school district in Northern California to introduce mandatory vaccination on Wednesday. It came after Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district, and the smaller Southern California district of Culver City approved similar guidelines for their students earlier this month.
In Los Angeles, students who are unable to provide proof of vaccination will not be allowed to have face-to-face study after the January 11th winter break, unless they have a medical or other exception.
New York City’s school system, the largest in the nation, has only mandated vaccinations for 20,000 student athletes in certain sports that are at high risk of spreading the virus, including wrestling.