Thousands of middle and high school students in the Bay Area and California have yet to confirm having received a COVID vaccine – and may be forced to return to distance learning starting next month – in districts that have adopted their own rules requiring that students be vaccinated to attend classes on campus.
With the deadlines looming, nearly 6,000 students in Oakland Unified and possibly 1,600 in school districts in West Contra Costa Unified have yet to prove they are vaccinated. Elsewhere, some 44,000 students at Los Angeles Unified and 12,000 at Sacramento City Unified are also unvaccinated.
Educators are scrambling to get more students vaccinated while facing the prospect of schools once again closing their doors to hundreds of unvaccinated children, which does not suit parent advocates who had urged schools to reopen for in-person learning. One thing is clear: Districts that struggle to fulfill their mandates have large numbers of black and Latino students who will suffer disproportionately.
“I’m concerned that the mandate essentially bars children who need the most in-person education from attending their schools,” said Megan Bacigalupi, mother of two elementary boys at Oakland Unified and executive director of CA Parent Power, who advocates for parents of public schools.
For now, the immediate crisis is unfolding in a small number of districts, primarily in East Bay and Southern California, which have adopted their own vaccine requirements for students with few options for that. the unvaccinated stay in class. But it could be a preview of what lies ahead for the rest of the Golden State.
Governor Gavin Newsom announced in October that California would require all students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, adding it to a list of 10 vaccinations children must have to attend state schools. But he said that would only take effect when federal regulators fully approve COVID-19 vaccines for a wider age range of students – no earlier than the second half of 2022. And unlike other mandatory vaccinations from state, personal belief exemptions would be allowed unless a new law was passed to remove them.
Some districts, including Berkeley Unified and Hayward Unified, have adopted student immunization requirements but allow the unvaccinated the option of taking weekly COVID tests to continue coming to school, the same choices the state has. given to teachers.
Last month, Los Angeles Unified also relaxed its student mandate. He added a weekly test option with about one in five students aged 12 and over still unvaccinated.
Oakland Unified last week extended its deadline from January to February for students to prove they are vaccinated, approved for exemption, or enroll in the district’s independent study program or home-school arrangements. The district pushed back on its threat to deregister unvaccinated students as it became clear that many would otherwise be excluded from classes.
“The numbers are still not where we want them to be,” Oakland Unified spokesperson John Sasaki said. “We continue to work to educate our students and families, through thousands of phone calls, emails, giving the latest and greatest information about the vaccine why it is important.”
The district allows personal belief as well as medical exemptions from the vaccine requirement, but both require a doctor’s signature, and Bacigalupi said many residents in the district seemed unaware of the option. Oakland Unified wouldn’t say how many have requested personal belief exemptions.
At West Contra Costa Unified, 12,000 students aged 12 and over are due to be fully immunized by January 3. More than 3,400 have already confirmed their vaccines, and about four of the five families of the remaining students have said they will do so before the deadline. said spokesperson Ryan Phillips.
But that would leave some 1,600 students missing and threatened with exclusion from campuses and automatically enrolled in the district’s Vista Virtual Academy. Teachers and district staff had to prove on Tuesday that they were also vaccinated. The school board meets Wednesday evening to discuss the progress of the vaccination.
“We are not trying to exclude any student from their education, that is not what it is about,” said Phillips. “It’s a matter of security. We ensure that every student has access to their education.
With no personal or religious belief exemption or weekly COVID-19 testing option, West Contra Costa Unified’s student vaccination mandate has been among the strictest and most controversial.
Sarah Eom withdrew her 12-year-old son from the district’s Fred T. Korematsu middle school instead of having him vaccinated because the link between rare heart inflammation, especially in boys and young men, and Pfizer’s vaccine makes her suspicious, considering children rarely have serious COVID-19 disease.
“It doesn’t seem like the benefits outweigh the problem,” Eom said.
Others like Jeannie Miranda, 35, who caught COVID-19 a year ago with her three children who are in grades 10, 7 and 4 at Unified Schools in West Contra Costa, believe the district should recognize their natural immunity to disease.
Both natural and vaccine immunity has been shown to decrease, although health officials say vaccines provide broader protection.
Even so, she said, if her children received the injections and had a bad reaction, however rare, “I couldn’t forgive myself. “
Not all districts with a strict mandate find it difficult to vaccinate students. In the upscale Piedmont Unified school district, spokesman Brian Killgore said only 11 of some 1,200 students aged 12 and older had yet to verify that they had been vaccinated. Students aged 5 to 11 have until Jan. 14 to provide proof of vaccination, and one in four of them have already done so.
Critics have long been concerned about a vaccination gap. A Bay Area News Group analysis of county health department data last month found that 52% of black students aged 12 to 17 in five main Bay Area counties had received at least one injection, up from 85. % of all students.
Bacigalupi, who has vaccinated herself, believes her district’s “efforts to increase vaccination rates in Oakland are important, through vaccination and outreach clinics.” But many unvaccinated children “suffered the academic and mental consequences of a year of distance learning.”
“The answer now,” she said, “isn’t to stop them from going to school in person.”