CHULA VISTA, Calif. – The Sweetwater Union High School District board Monday acknowledged the state’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate for eligible students, but board members refrained from moving up the vaccine deadline.
“This is public health, folks,” board member Adrian Arancibia said. “Seat belts, we don’t get a choice with. Vaccines for kids, we don’t get a choice with. We have to vaccinate our kids to put them through school.”
The move comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed an executive order implementing a statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all eligible staff and schoolchildren who attend classes in person. It is pending FDA approval for different age groups and currently applies to Pfizer shots for people 16 and older.
Newsom said the COVID vaccines would “add to a well-established list that currently includes 10 vaccinations” already required for public and private school students in California.
“We’re all exhausted by this pandemic,” Newsom said earlier this month. “And we’re all left wondering … ‘What lies in front of us?’”
The state’s two largest school districts – Los Angles Unified and San Diego Unified – have approved COVID vaccination mandates for students and staffers in their districts, with the latter now having to defend its position after a lawsuit filed Tuesday by local parent advocacy group Let Them Choose.
Currently, about 65% of Sweetwater students have at least one dose of the vaccine along with 83% of staff.
Once all students in grades 7-12 have full FDA approval, they must get the shot by the start of the next term, which the district expects to be July 1, 2022. The mandate breaks students into two groups: grades 7-12 and K-6.
“Two big orders have come out from the governor in the month of August and month of September,” Jennifer Carbuccia, the district’s general counsel, said during Monday’s meeting, “and while our neighboring districts may have had the opportunity to sit back and think about it for a while, we have been actively – we are now in second quarter already.”
Julie Walker, who identified herself as a science teacher of 35 years, said she supports vaccinations, but expressed reservations to the board over early implementation.
She warned of “unintended consequences” of the mandate as it pertains to the district’s teachers and staff.
“Right now, we don’t have enough teachers,” Walker said. “We don’t have enough substitutes. If you potentially take 10% of our staff and our teachers from the classroom because you say vaccinate or don’t come to school, where we’re at is not a single teacher will have a prep period for the remainder of the school year. We don’t have the staff.”
Addressing the board virtually, Kris Elam said she “strongly supports” implementing the requirement for staff and students to attend in-person classes.
“As multiple other districts have done, I would urge our district not to wait until next school year and to start implementing it as soon as possible,” Elam said. “We’re looking at districts – LA Unified, Oakland, San Diego Unified – all massive districts. It goes without saying that all staff working on campus with students should be required to be fully vaccinated.
“Our job as employees of the school district is above all is to protect our students. Interacting with our students without being vaccinated simply puts them at more risk.”
FOX 5’s Dillon Davis contributed to this report.