The San Diego Unified School District currently requires students and staff to show proof of vaccination or get tested weekly in order to attend or work in person, but that could change Tuesday when the board is expected to vote on whether to mandate vaccines.
“Schools require students to get certain vaccinations in order to protect themselves and in order to protect everybody in the school community and we think this is no different than that,” San Diego Unified School District President Richard Barrera told NBC 7.
He said more children have been hospitalized recently than any previous time during the pandemic, adding unvaccinated children contribute to new variants and that’s the main reason the board is considering the mandate.
The proposal says if the vaccine mandate is approved, a notification will be sent out by Oct. 1 requiring all eligible students, staff and contractors be fully vaccinated on or before Dec. 20, 2021.
Right now, San Diegans who are age 12 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
If not, the plan says “the District may take disciplinary action, up to and including termination for employees…” and students would not be able to attend in-person learning or participate in extracurricular activities unless they are under the vaccine eligibility age of 12 or have an exemption.
“We’ll of course allow for certain medical exemptions if a student is not able to get a vaccine at a particular time,” said Barrera. “Religious exemptions are not authorized in the state of California for vaccines so we will not be allowing religious exemptions or personal belief exemptions.”
Barrera said COVID-19 testing will be required for all unvaccinated students until full FDA approval of the vaccine for their age group, but testing is not an opt-out for students who are eligible.
“If a parent decides that they don't want their students to get the vaccine…what's available to them is our online learning program,” he said.
Under the plan, parental consent will be required for the vaccination of all students under the age of 18 and students and staff will be required to show proof of vaccination once completed.
“Anybody who gets vaccinated, we know you get a card that shows proof of vaccination,” Barrera said. “We will be putting a big push on parents whose students are vaccinated to make sure that they get that proof of vaccination in to us.”
The Pfizer vaccine is currently authorized for emergency use in children ages 12 to 18. As the timeline for federal health agencies’ vaccine authorizations continue to change, Barrera told NBC 7 California’s second largest school district is continuing to pay close attention.
“We expect over the fall, we will see full FDA approval for the vaccines for students who are 12 and older,” he said. “We don't have guidance yet on students under 12 because the vaccine is not available yet, but when it becomes available, we’ll reach out to our public health experts and get some guidance on moving forward with students in those age groups as well.”
The San Diego Unified School District said 76% of employees are fully vaccinated and almost 81% have received at least one dose, adding that 57% of students over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated and almost 65% of students in the same age group have received at least one dose.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Unified School District became the first district in the country to vote in favor of a vaccine mandate for students age 12 and older, and several more California school boards have since followed.