Despite recent vaccine mandates for many Los Angeles schools going into effect this semester, some school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley have yet to entertain any.
In an Oct. 1 press release, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office stated that a statewide mandate for the vaccine, for grades seven to 12, isn’t expected to go into effect until July 1, 2022, but said that local districts “are encouraged to implement requirements ahead of a statewide requirement based on their local circumstances.”
The delay in the mandate and the personal belief or religious exemptions that it allows does worry some lawmakers, as they leave much of the decision making and enforcement to public health officials and school districts themselves. The contrast is evident in how neighboring cities like Santa Clarita and Los Angeles are approaching the mandates, amidst Santa Clarita being called a COVID-19 hotspot by Los Angeles County Department of Public Health director Barbara Ferrer.
“We don’t anticipate it being something that impacts us until maybe next fall, but not in the Spring semester at all,” said president of the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board, Dr. Cherise Moore, prior to Nov. 17’s board meeting. “So we haven’t had any conversations about it at all.”
Those conversations were finally held when the Hart Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution on Nov. 17 calling on Newsom to either rescind or reconsider the imminent vaccination requirement, as well as directing a letter to state officials redirecting “public concerns… while also clarifying the vaccine exemption option.” The resolution, met with a standing ovation from several parents in attendance, was passed following heated exchanges and comments from the public during the district’s board meeting.
Opinions during the board meeting’s public comment section ranged from gratefulness for current COVID-19 protocols in the district to extreme disdain and misinformation. One parent claimed to not hear Moore because she was wearing a mask, while another individual claimed the vaccines violated the Nuremberg Code, an online conspiracy theory that falsely claims a set of research ethics that emerged from the prosecution of Nazis after World War II invalidates vaccine mandates. Another speaker said COVID-19 antibodies needed to be “removed” from people’s bodies and “proven” medications, namely the unsafe hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, should be used instead to combat the spread of COVID-19.
A student wept as she begged the board to support the mandates out of fear of infection. Another person who made comments during the meeting, Victor Veronica Santa, said the new mandates and current protocols impede individual freedom.
“No matter how small, no matter how big, we are taking our country back, like it or not,” he said. “We are not going to comply with tyranny. You can push it all you want, it’s going to get shut down by the courts anyway. So, go for it. Bring it. Gloves are off, let’s do this.”
Three Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies stood by “at our expense,” trustee Linda Storli said after public comments became heated. Storli then said she did her own research and has listened to “prominent doctors in the country who are absolutely against mandating this vaccine to children from five to 17,” and to prominent doctors in favor of using the vaccine to curb COVID-19. Ultimately, she said she believes their plea for rescinding the mandate likely will not change Newsom’s mind.
“Hopefully by July 2022 (when the mandate goes into effect), if prayers are answered, this vaccine could be gone and we won’t have to deal with this,” she added.
Trustee James Webb said he believed Newsom “overreached his boundaries,” a point that was met with applause. Fellow trustee Bob Jenson agreed with Webb on mandates being a legislative matter, repeating that “we live in a constitutional republic.”
“I can support this because I do feel that the legislature needs to weigh in on this,” Webb continued. “…Our government was founded on three separate but equal divisions…The executive orders… has overreached and has caused some irreparable harm that we’re dealing with now in terms of credentialing.”
After noting he brought the resolution forward, Trustee Joe Messina stressed on differences of opinion among parents regarding vaccine mandates, but deciding to have students vaccinated should all boil down to parental choice. Dr. Moore admitted she does not have her son vaccinated, then called the letter “strong” and was about “making sure that we know the right information…”
“California does things different, we all know that,” she said. “I know a lot of people said they’re frustrated with California, but we live here. We choose to be here and we choose to stay here, some of us. Some are choosing to leave and that’s their choice, but when you choose to be here and if the mandate does become law, as you’ve heard my colleague say, we have to enforce the law.”
The contrast is clear between SCV school boards and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Currently there is no vaccine mandate for students aged five to 11 in the LAUSD, but school board members are exploring the idea of expanding the already existing mandates.
On Sept. 9, the LAUSD board voted to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students ages 12 and older. Students within this age group that play sports or do any extracurricular activities must have already had both shots by Oct. 31 and all other students must meet this requirement by Dec. 19. These mandates in L.A. are much tighter than Newsom’s initial announcement on Oct. 1 to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccines required to go to school in-person, starting the term following when it is fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA.
Mask mandates are still in place in SCV schools and are appearing to be enforced, even in the face of growing protest from some parents recently at school board meetings, such as those on Nov. 3 and 17.
In addition to the Hart School District, the Saugus Union School District said that it’s also not entertaining any ideas of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate until the vaccine is fully FDA approved. Superintendent of Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita, Dr. Colleen Hawkins, said that until the vaccine is fully FDA approved, a mandate is “absolutely not” being considered.
“By the current way that the laws are written, it’s not even allowed…unless the board were to pass something, but we have not entertained that,” said Hawkins. “In the Hart School District, they’ve had the vaccine available for their children for months and months and months, and it’s not required because it’s not fully FDA approved.”
Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is under an emergency use authorization, which is different from a full FDA approval, for ages five and older. Hawkins also said that once the state mandate is in place, SUSD can make them more strict to adhere to but that her school district is “not having those discussions.”
Cheryl Corriveau, parent of two children in the SUSD, said that although her feelings are complicated regarding a vaccine mandate, she is happy that masks are being enforced.
“At the beginning of the school year, my son got Covid. He got it from our toddler who’s in a private school and they do not wear masks there,” said Corriveau. “I was so happy that, when I reported to the school and they kept me in the loop, they let me know that none of the other kids in his classes, none of the kids he hung around with, none of them contracted Covid because he was wearing a mask everyday…and as a parent that means the world to me.”
“I’m grateful that they’re making the kids wear masks in class, because up until recently the younger kids weren’t able to get vaccinated. For one, the kids could get sick. The kids could die, even though not a lot of kids have died from COVID, but that possibility is there,” Corriveau said. “But most importantly, I know a lot of families that have grandparents living with them or parents with health issues… So it always scares me that these kids are going to school and passing these germs back and forth and then a kid bringing home something as severe like COVID-19 to a family member that’s immunocompromised or has other health issues.”
Corriveau also expressed that although she supports a vaccine mandate and likens it to the requirement to be vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), polio and other diseases, she understands some parents’ concern.
“I get the outrage with other parents that don’t want them to be vaccinated,” she said. “I just don’t really understand the disconnect on why they’re OK with the MMR and shingles and all these other vaccines that they get…but not COVID-19.”
This is Part 4 of a series focused on the “new normal” of schools in the Santa Clarita Valley and how districts, teachers and parents are acclimating to in-person learning despite the ongoing pandemic.
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