“Vaccinations are how we will end this pandemic,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom declared on Wednesday. In line with that, the governor announced a statewide policy requiring all school teachers and employees in the state to show proof of full Covid-19 vaccination or submit to weekly testing. He also said the requirement would apply to all school staff, from administrators to custodians. The new policy for school staff will take effect August 12, 2021, and schools must be in full compliance by October 15, 2021. Schools are responsible for verification.
California is the first state in the nation to implement such a sweeping requirement. In late July, it was the first state to recommend masking for everyone indoors in public. It has also required vaccine verification for state workers and healthcare workers.
On enforcement should teachers and staff fail to comply Newsom said, “We have an ed code, and there are sanctions. We’re not concerned about that. We have enlightened leadership (in schools).”
Asked about further announcements, including requiring students to get vaccinated should the doses be approved for kids by the FDA the governor said, “We’ve been discussing this for come time. There’s many things we’re considering and I anticipate subsequent announcements in the coming weeks and months.”
The policy mirrors one announced this week by the Long Beach Unified School District, which will begin fall classes at the end of August. It applies to both public and private schools in the state, but not to child care facilities or to higher education. School districts in San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento also have similar requirements in place.
The Los Angeles Unified School District — the largest district in the state and second-largest in the nation — has a different policy in place, requiring weekly Covid testing for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status.
The moves come as the Delta variant has driven surges across the state and country, even among children. For the week ending August 5, 2021 children were 15% of reported weekly Covid-19 cases. The only time in 2020 when the percentage of Covid cases among Americans under 18 accounted for a greater share of infections was during the winter surge in November and December of that year, according to the CDC. Los Angeles County saw a child suffer a Covid-related death last week.
The state has finally begun to make significant progress on vaccinations, after months of torpor. California administered 335,009 new first doses last week, a 24% increase compared to the previous two weeks, according to the governor’s office. That’s a 62% increase compared to the week of July 5-July 11. Currently, 63% of Californians ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated. As of August 10, 2021, less than 41% of Californians 12 to 17 years old were fully vaccinated. Children under the age of 12 are not currently eligible for any authorized vaccines.
The vaccination-or-testing requirement already has the support of the powerful Service Employees International Union, which represents thousands of school workers across the state.
“We share Governor Newsom’s commitment to increasing the rate of vaccination so we can better protect the students and families we serve from sickness and death, and prevent the virus from spreading to our own families and communities, and we support public health measures such as this which are designed to do so while giving workers a choice,” said Max Arias, an executive board member of SEIU California. “Worker-led school safety protocols have
created the model for safe school reopening, and many school workers have already created similar agreements.”
California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd added, “Today’s announcement is an appropriate next step to ensure the safety of our school communities and to protect our youngest learners under 12 who are not yet vaccine eligible from this highly contagious Delta variant.”
See the state health officer order requiring school staff vaccination or testing here.
Newsom has come under fire from some groups for another statewide school mandate – mask-wearing. The Orange County Board of Education announced last week it will be taking legal action to challenge the requirement for all students and teachers to wear masks. A pair of parent groups have also filed a lawsuit in San Diego challenging the mandate.
The governor has brushed off criticism, saying last week, “We want to keep our kids safe.”
“We want them back in person for in-person instruction,” Newsom said. “We don’t want our kids back on Zoom school. We don’t want our kids back online with all the disparities that were self-evident in another classroom I was in when I asked them how their download speeds are. And the fact that a young child, in first-grade, is talking about download speeds suggests everything you need to know about the nature of the impact of this pandemic and how disproportionate it has been.”
Newsom said he expects school districts across the state to follow all safety recommendations, which he said “are in line with the CDC and aligned with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which I’m more interested in their counsel and advice than, respectfully, those that are seeking to move in the direction of Florida and other states.”
Larry Elder, a conservative talk show host considered a leading candidate in the upcoming gubernatorial recall election, wrote on Twitter that he would reverse the order if he becomes governor.
“Encouraging vaccination is fine. Government mandating it is not,” Elder wrote on Twitter, although Newsom’s order would not be a vaccine mandate since workers have the option of weekly testing.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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