Local school districts are drafting resolutions to ask state officials to recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for students and staff rather than require it.
Districts across the Yuba-Sutter region have considered bringing forth resolutions during school board meetings in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement on Oct. 1 that the state would require COVID-19 vaccinations at schools once vaccines receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA authorized emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-15 years old and full approval for use in people 16 and older. Newsom’s requirement could potentially take effect at the start of the next school term once a vaccine receives full approval from the FDA for the appropriate ages. According to Newsom, the requirement could be applied to grades seven through 12 starting July 1, 2022.
Marysville Joint Unified School District board members Jeff Boom and vice president Gary Criddle directed staff to draft a resolution related to Newsom’s proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Oct. 26 during a school board meeting. MJUSD board members were contacted by the Appeal to respond to the resolution, but they did not comment and directed the Appeal to the superintendent.
“The board is aware that there are varying opinions regarding the vaccination mandate and we also recognize that the district as an educational entity is required to follow the state mandates,” said Fal Asrani, superintendent at MJUSD. “This resolution states that we want the governor to recommend and not mandate vaccinations.”
According to Asrani, the resolution was drafted internally with support from MJUSD’s legal counsel and from referencing similar resolutions drafted by other school districts across the state. The resolution was tabled during the Nov. 9 school board meeting to further discuss the language, take suggestions and allow board members more time to consider the resolution before taking a vote. The resolution will return for consideration at the next board meeting on Dec. 14.
If there is a decision to send the resolution or a letter to state officials, that decision will be up to the board during upcoming meetings. However, MJUSD will comply with the mandate if it is required to by state and local laws.
“We understand the state’s intent is to keep everyone safe, but this is not something that should be given to schools to enforce,” said Asrani.
According to Asrani, “mandating the COVID-19 vaccination could definitely impact our staffing.” MJUSD has approximately 350 unvaccinated employees undergoing weekly testing for COVID-19 out of its total estimated 1,200 employees. Approximately over 70 percent of MJUSD staff are vaccinated while 30 percent remain unvaccinated.
The governing board at Yuba City Unified School District also requested a resolution to be drafted and presented at its December board meeting. Sarbjit Takhar, vice president of the board, made the initial request that a resolution be drafted for consideration by the full board.
According to Takhar, he felt the need to voice his opposition against the mandate before it became law and the best way to do that would be to send a letter from the YCUSD school board to the governor’s office and the State Board of Education.
“Other vaccines have had decades of history to base a decision on,” said Takhar in an email to the Appeal. “This particular vaccine is just too new in my opinion to force it on kids whose parents may object to it. Perhaps a few years from now, I’d be more supportive of the mandate but it’s just too early right now. Personally, I’m for vaccination and I do believe the vaccine is safe for use. However, I do understand that others may have different opinions on the matter and that’s their prerogative and right.”
According to Takhar, once mandates are imposed on schools throughout California, school districts will have to comply and will have no choice of overriding a mandate from the state level without incurring massive liability. According to Takhar, this means people need to act and voice their opposition before the mandate is imposed.
“I won’t speak for other board members, but I personally oppose the vaccine mandate but it’s not something that we can control at the local level,” said Takhar. “For those that oppose the mandate, they really need to work to get this changed at the state level. Attacking the local school board and disrupting our meetings does nothing to further the cause of the protestors. All it does is stop us from completing normal board business which in turn hurts the schools.”
The Appeal made various attempts to contact other board members about this issue, but they did not want to comment on the proposed resolution.
“The governing board requested that the resolution include language that addresses parental rights to choose whether to vaccinate their children, challenges that may occur as a result of the mandates and ensuring that our students have equal access to all schools,” said Doreen Osumi, superintendent of YCUSD.
The district is now in the process of drafting the possible resolution, said Osumi. The resolution will return for consideration at the next board meeting on Dec. 14 held through teleconference.
Wheatland Union High School District also drafted a similar resolution. According to Nicole Newman, superintendent of WUHSD, the board and herself are going to continue advocating their voice to allow parents to advocate for their children. As stated in the resolution and as Newman expressed, WUHSD supports local control and decision making.
The resolution was drafted with the help of a legal counsel and does state that “should the COVID-19 vaccine requirement become a mandate for students or staff in public schools in California, then it must comply with such a mandate.”
Newman said she has been constantly advocating for school and parent choice as a board member in the Association of California School Administrators and a participant board member in the Small School Districts’ Association by writing letters to the governor and Legislature.
Newman expressed that she and the board are tired of the state making decisions and “putting this all on our heads when it could be done through a different method.” Newman did state that a mandate could perhaps have consequences on staffing.
Live Oak Unified School District included an agenda item for today’s meeting to hold a discussion on a possible resolution draft on the topic of the vaccine mandate and whether there is interest in sending a resolution to the governor and the California Department of Health.
According to Mathew Gulbrandsen, superintendent of LOUSD, the discussion is being brought to the board due to interest from the Sutter County community and members of the public to send a statement on vaccine mandates. No action will be taken on the item, but if there is public and board member interest, the superintendent could bring a resolution to the board for approval at its December meeting.
Tonight’s LOUSD meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in the LOUSD Board Room at 2201 Pennington Rd. in Live Oak. To watch and/or participate in the meeting via Zoom, visit www.lousd.k12.ca.us for more information.
Following the science
“There is a misconception that children are not impacted by COVID-19,” said Bi-County Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu. “Per the CDC, approximately 8,300 COVID-19 cases in children 5-11 years old resulted in hospitalization. As of Oct. 17, 2021, 691 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in persons younger than 18 years, with 146 of those deaths in the 5-11 years age group.”
According to the FDA, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 was studied in approximately 3,100 children who demonstrated no serious side effects. The vaccine was found to be 90.7 percent effective. In the U.S., individuals younger than 18 make up 39 percent of COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC.
Although children are at lower risk, children with underlying medical conditions are more at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and can develop serious complications like multisystem inflammatory syndrome. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) has been associated with COVID-19 and can affect children by causing their body parts to become inflamed. Medical professionals are still unaware of what causes MIS-C, but know most children who were diagnosed had COVID-19 or were around someone who had tested positive for it.
Researchers noted that in the U.S., Hispanic, Black and American Indian or Alaska Natives under the age of 21 represent about 41 percent of the population. Pediatric deaths for this population group compromised 75 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
According to Luu, it is normal for parents to have questions about the vaccine but she recommends people review the vetted information from the CDC regarding COVID-19 vaccinations for ages of 5-11. If more children were vaccinated among schools, this would allow them to be protected from COVID-19, especially against hospitalization and severe disease, said Luu.
“In addition, being fully vaccinated allows the child to avoid quarantine if exposed as a close contact and he or she remains asymptomatic,” said Luu. “COVID-19 vaccination is a safe and effective way for children, including those 5-11 years old, to be protected against this severe illness.”
In Britain, a surge of COVID-19 cases has escalated as the youth population remains unvaccinated. It was reported by the Los Angeles Times that school children in England were 15 times more likely to be infected with COVID than 80-year olds, according to Dr. George Rutherford, a UC San Francisco epidemiologist and infectious-disease expert. According to Rutherford, this serves as a warning for California if inoculation rates do not improve.
In Sutter County for the age group of 12-17, around 51.1 percent of the population remains unvaccinated and in Yuba County, 61.1 percent of people aged 12-17 remain unvaccinated as of Tuesday, according to the Yuba-Sutter COVID-19 Dashboard.
All required vaccinations in school districts are guided by the California Department of Public Health. At an early age, students at the transitional kindergarten and kindergarten level are required to get vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Students are required to obtain three to four doses prior to enrollment depending on their age and are required to have five by the time students reach the age of 7. Other vaccines required for students are for polio, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella, also commonly known as chickenpox, as previously reported by the Appeal.