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SAN DIEGO – The head of the San Diego Unified School Board threw his support behind a new first-of-its-kind statewide policy requiring all school teachers and employees show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or submit to weekly testing.

Speaking about the policy Wednesday in Oakland, Gov. Gavin Newsom called it “the right thing to do,” arguing it will help keep schools open while ensuring safety for children.

The policy hardly should come as a shock at San Diego Unified, the state’s second-largest school district which has required its educators and staff to be vaccinated since April, according to Richard Barrera, the president of the district’s board.

“We believe all of our employees should get vaccinated,” Barrera said.

It was a policy instituted by the district upon the return of in-person learning earlier this year.

“We’ve got people in our schools — our own students — who really are depending on the rest of us as adults (to get vaccinated),” he said.

Students in some local districts, including the Chula Vista Elementary School District and the Sweetwater Union High School District, already have returned to the classroom with others slated to follow in the coming weeks. Classes begin at San Diego Unified on Aug. 31.

Barrera said district leaders believe the only way students and staff will remain on campus will be through a combination of vaccinations, testing, mask wearing and social distancing, among other protocols.

But Sharon McKeeman, the leader of the mask choice advocacy group Let Them Breathe, says her movement is all about choice, and that includes on vaccinations.

“The problem with the teachers having to get vaccinated or doing these weekly tests is that we know there are a lot of false positives,” McKeeman said. “That could be another thing that actually keeps our kids out of their in-person education.”

Under Newsom’s policy, educators have until mid-October to get vaccinated. Long Beach, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento all has similar vaccination requirements. 

But what happens if a teacher fails to comply with the state and district policy? Barrera said they don’t yet have accurate percentages of employee vaccinations, but that the percentage is high.

“It’s a requirement, a condition of employment in our district,” he said. “We’d have to move forward with disciplinary action.”

He added: “All public health experts that we’ve talked to are fully confident in the safety of the vaccines.”