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Latest: SDUSD board president details newly-approved COVID vaccine mandate

SAN DIEGO – Eligible students and staff in the San Diego Unified School District now will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 after a vote by the district’s board Tuesday.

In a unanimous decision, the board mandated vaccinations for all students ages 16 and older and for staff in the district as a condition of employment. Under the district’s Vaccination Roadmap, eligible students and staff must get their first shot of the vaccine no later than Nov. 29 and the second dose on or before Dec. 20, which district Board President Richard Barrera said “allows for full immunity by the time students return from winter break in January.”

“It could not be more clear that this is the right move for us to take tonight,” Barrera said, adding that communication will be “absolutely critical” as the district moves ahead with the policy.

The roadmap calls for a staggered approach for vaccinating students as a requirement to attend in-person classes. It further expands to include students 12 and older and then ages 5 and older pending vaccine approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Students who are not vaccinated by the district’s deadline will be required to attend independent study programs starting in January and won’t be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

As of this week, 76% of San Diego Unified employees are fully vaccinated and nearly 81% of employees have received at least one dose, the district’s Vaccination Roadmap shows. About 57% of eligible students in the district are fully vaccinated with nearly 65% of students ages 12 and older receiving at least their first dose.

The board heard roughly an hour of public comments from people speaking both for and against the mandate.

Speaking in favor of the mandate, Kevin Stevenson said the district already mandates vaccinations for other diseases such as hepatitis B and asked why “all these kooks were drawing an arbitrary line at COVID-19.”

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Stevenson said. “It’s crazy. I mean, COVID continues to threaten our kids, our teachers. We really do need to get this under control.”

Also favoring the mandate was Dawniel Stewart, who identified herself as a parent to three San Diego Unified children. Stewart said she’s “devastated” after recently losing her unvaccinated brother-in-law to COVID-19, stating, “It didn’t have to be this way.”

“The coronavirus vaccine works and is safe,” she said. “We need to protect our children. Vaccines will do that. Any medical product that has a positive effect can also have a negative effect. Vaccines are no different. However, viral infections themselves also cause these negative effects and much more commonly.”

“There are no risk-free choices, folks. That’s true for any medical therapy and our job is to take the lesser risk. The COVID vaccine is the lesser risk here.”

The mandate is likely to meet a legal challenge from supporters of Let Them Choose, an advocacy organization spawned out of the Let Them Breathe movement which for months has pushed against students wearing masks in schools.

In a letter sent to the district last week, a lawyer representing Let Them Choose argued the district does not have the legal authority to mandate the vaccine and calls the vaccination “unnecessary” for students.”

“It does seem like a bit of a foregone conclusion because we have seen the Vaccine Roadmap, so it doesn’t sound like a discussion,” Let Them Breathe founder Sharon McKeeman told FOX 5 prior to Tuesday’s meeting. “It sounds like a clear roadmap. We’ve seen them before not honor parents’ voices and we hope they do. If they don’t, we’re ready to take legal action against a mandate if it’s passed.”

Plenty of speakers in the meeting also spoke out against the vaccine mandate.

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

Taylor criticized the board for a perceived lack of transparency on the decision.

“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.”

Raquel Hall called board members “chickens” for holding the meeting virtually rather than in person.

“This vaccine is not a vaccine,” Hall said. “Everybody knows that already. You’re ignoring that and you’re pushing it on kids who don’t need it. You know it, but it’s all about money and power and control and evil, demonic money.”

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

The district’s Vaccination Roadmap is posted below in its entirety.