San Diego Unified School District

Parents Keep Kids Home, Employees Call Out to Protest School COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Students K-12 and will be required to get the COVID shot to attend school in person starting the semester after the FDA gives full approval

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Protests against California's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for schools were held across the state Monday by both parents and employees, prompting some disruptions at San Diego County schools.

A small group of parents chose to keep their kids out of school on Monday in a "walkout" protest; others attended rallies. Some school employees called out of work, specifically citing the vaccine mandate.

In the Poway Unified School District, at least a dozen bus drivers called out sick or in protest of the vaccine mandate on Monday. Their actions affected more than 500 students on 21 bus routes, according to PUSD spokesperson Christine Paik.

A protest in Carlsbad garnered at least 100 parents and students. One parent said she was protesting the vaccine's use on children because "there's not enough research."

"This vaccine is brand new technology," the parent said. "This does not apply to our children. We need longer time, more research, and I want our legislators to listen to us today."

"We want the freedom of choice," Monica Jordan, who is the parent of a Carlsbad fifth-grader, told NBC 7. "We shouldn’t be forced to take something we don’t want," adding that her "daughter has an underlying heart condition, and without any long-term studies and possible adverse effects on what this potential vaccine could do, I don’t want to take that risk."

A demonstration with also held at Balboa Park, with several parents telling NBC 7 the demonstration wasn't "anti-vax" but "right to choose."

"See we're not anti-vax, that's not what we're saying," said Bobbie Koolen, who said his children are graduates from the SDUSD. "We're saying this a new 'science' and it needs to be proven before we go and start injecting these little guys."

Renae Fieck, a mom and occupational therapist, said she kept her kids out of school because she's not yet sure if she wants her children to get the shot.

"I don't think that the science and the data is even out yet to make those decisions," Fieck said. "And so, even now, having those mandates already set in stone without even having the data and the research and the knowledge of what those are - I just think we're in that spot of not really knowing yet."

It is not clear how many students did not attend school on Monday because of the protests.

Students K-12 will be required to get the COVID shot to attend school in person starting the semester after the FDA gives full approval for its use for those age groups, which could be as soon as early next year, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in early October. Teachers -- who previously had the option to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing for COVID-19 -- must get the shot, too.

The San Diego Unified School District board has approved a vaccine mandate for all eligible students and employees, which takes effect earlier than California's -- by Dec. 20, 2021 -- in order for students to partake in in-person learning or extracurricular activities.

On Monday afternoon, a district official told NBC 7 that the day's attendance rate —90.91% — was slightly less than last Monday's, when 92.36% of students were in class. There are more than 103,000 students in the district, according to San Diego Unified.

Those in favor of COVID-19 vaccines for students say it is just another on the list of several required vaccines before kids can attend school. In California, the COVID-19 vaccine will be added to a list of nearly a dozen shots that students must take, including the mumps, measles and polio vaccines.

Religious and medical exemptions will be allowed under both the state and county's plan. Any student who refuses to take the vaccine would be forced to complete an independent study course at home.

SDUSD Board President Richard Barrera talks to NBC 7's Priya Sridhar about what’s next for staff and students.

A spokesperson for the San Diego County Office of Education said while they understand parents have concerns about the vaccine mandate, they don't believe keeping students from school is the answer.

"Keeping children home from school to protest state policies only results in lost learning time for our students. Showing up for school each day has a huge impact on a student’s academic success starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school," a statement from the office said.

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