District, student leaders pitch benefits of vaccine mandate day after vote

Coronavirus

SAN DIEGO — Representatives for the San Diego Unified School District shared details and answered questions Wednesday about their new COVID-19 vaccine mandate for eligible students and staff, news many parents woke up to that morning after an at-time contentious district meeting the night before.

The district also sought to boost its vaccination rate with a free on-site clinic at San Diego High School on Park Boulevard.

Among the district spokespeople deployed at the campus to promote the effort Wednesday were SDUSD Student Board Member Zachary Patterson and another student body leader, Jake Zubkoff. The two appeared together at a morning news conference.

“If you’re eligible, get the vaccine,” said Zubkoff. “I’m vaccinated. Zachary here is vaccinated. So let’s get our schools vaccinated.”

San Diego Unified School District Student Board Member Zachary Patterson speaks at an event touting the district’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Sept. 29 at San Diego High School.

San Diego Unified School District voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of the requirement. It will apply first to staff members and students 16-and-up, and then move to a mandate for those 12 and older. Staff and students in the 16-and-up group must have their first shot by Thanksgiving and have completed their vaccination by January.

Parents can choose for their student to move to online learning if they don’t want them to get vaccinated. There will be medical exemptions through a documented process, but no personal or religious exemption to the rules. You can view the school’s full roadmap in this story.

School Board President Richard Barrera told FOX 5 the board views a mandate as critical for keeping schools open throughout the year and to preventing severe cases among staff or members of the student body.

While kids appear less likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, roughly 5.5 million children in the U.S. have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatriacs.

School officials worry about the possibility of another surge in cases rates, especially with the delta variant, and point to medical expert testimony along with statistics showing that unvaccinated individuals make up the vast majority of serious cases of the illness in San Diego County.

“Stick up for me and (other) immunocompromised people and go out there and get vaccinated. Because it might just feel like, it’s just you, and ‘I don’t want to do this.’ But what I say is, ‘Remember me,’” Patterson said. “Remember us, and remember the fact that we can change the outcome of this pandemic.”

The board heard from members of the community in an at-times contentious online meeting before their vote Tuesday, with parents alternating in 10-minute chunks between those in favor and opposed to the mandate.

Brenda Taylor, a 25-year elementary school teacher in the district, said she was addressing the board for “the unvaxxed staff afraid to speak out of fear of retaliation.”

“Your intentions may be good, but like the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” Taylor said. “This flawed proposal that you’re hiding behind the word of science as if it’s absolute. We know that science is not perfect.”

“They’re rushing everything and I’m against it,” another opponent told the board.

You can read more about the studies behind the FDA and CDC’s vaccine approval process, including for children, and learn about the agencies’ safety monitoring policies, online.

Currently, 57% of San Diego Unified students 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

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