San Diego school district unanimously votes to require vaccines for in-person staff, eligible students

Kendall Tietz, DCNF

The school board of San Diego Unified School District unanimously voted Tuesday night to implement a vaccine mandate for all staff and eligible students for in-person learning that will not recognize religious exemptions, according to school documents.

All staff and students 16 and older will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 20 to learn in person, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Hundreds of people rallied outside the school board headquarters ahead of the meeting.

The school district cited research from seven UC San Diego experts who supported a vaccine mandate.

“Rates of COVID are going up in children. Consistent with current California law, religious or personal belief exemptions should not be allowed,” UC San Diego’s Division of Infectious Diseases Dr. Mark Sawyer wrote in the guidelines

“Obviously we mandate many vaccines for school to prevent infectious diseases that are transmitted in schools and COVID clearly is one of these,” Sawyer said. “The non-pharmacologic measures (e.g. masks, ventilation, cohorting) are not going to be sufficient to prevent some transmission.”

The district’s “vaccination roadmap” said that those who don’t get the vaccine will have to participate in remote, independent study and students under 16 will have to test for COVID-19 regularly before the vaccine is approved for their age group.

Students “may be conditionally enrolled via in-person learning if they are in one of these groups: foster youth, homeless, migrant, military family, or have an IEP,” according to the district’s vaccine guidelines. “State law does not recognize religious or personal belief exemptions for student immunizations,” but some medical exemptions will be considered.

“Tonight we’re making a statement that we believe in the science, we believe in the process and that we are serious about this, that we want to protect children,” School Board Vice President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said during the meeting, the Union-Tribune reported.

The district will have the right to fire or discipline employees who don’t get vaccinated by Dec. 20. Students who are not vaccinated will not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

Among students who are 12 years and older, 64.6% have received at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 57.2% are fully vaccinated, according to data from the San Diego County Immunization Registry. Among employees, 80.7% have received at least 1 dose while 76.0% are fully vaccinated.

Over 1,650 people requested to speak at Tuesday’s school board meeting in protest of the mandate, with only 83 requesting to speak in favor of a mandate.

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