Local school boards are increasingly pushing back against an expected vaccine mandate for students after waves of parents have been protesting the mandate since it was announced last month.

Earlier this month, the Ocean View School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously on a resolution for the state to reconsider requiring students to be vaccinated to go to classrooms.

“I’m not necessarily anti-vax. I believe in people being able to make the right decisions about themselves and their children. We have other safety measures in place,” said Trustee Jack Souders. “They’re already wearing masks in the classroom.”

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The debate over whether or not to require students to get vaccinated also comes on the heels of pushback against pandemic precautions such as masks and school closures. Opposition to those measures has largely shifted to vaccines since Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the expected mandate last month.

Local and state public health officials have said the mandate won’t kick in until the vaccines get full approval from the FDA — something that could happen as late as next July.

While the Pfizer vaccine has been fully authorized for people 16 and older, officials haven’t said if the mandate will kick in for students 16 and older.

In Orange County, nearly 23,000 kids age 5-11 have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

“I want everybody in the media to really make sure parents are encouraged to vaccinate their children, it’s the one thing that they can do to really protect their child,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, pediatrician and deputy OC health officer, in a news briefing this month.

With expected surges in the winter, she encouraged parents not to wait to get their children vaccinated.

While some school districts are opposing the expected mandate, others have stayed silent on it and have started holding vaccine clinics at schools for people 5 and older.

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Since July 2020, over 700,000 kids have contracted the virus and there’s been more than 6,500 pediatric COVID hospitalizations, according to a California Department of Public Health email.

“We have lost 38 young lives since the start of the pandemic,” the email reads. “Vaccines are how we end this pandemic and protect our children from the dangers of COVID-19. Vaccinating our children will get them back to the activities that enrich their youth and help them grow into healthy adults and limit disruption to their learning.”

Waves of parents have been threatening to pull their children out of schools since Newsom announced the expected mandates last month.

Some parents are worried about the safety of the vaccine for kids and the side effects like Myocarditis.

Local experts say the cases of Myocarditis have been rare and that COVID itself presents a bigger risk than the vaccine. 

“Federal and state medical experts agree that the clinical trials have been rigorous in demonstrating that the vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 5-11,” argues the California Department of Public Health in the email.

There have also been days where some parents kept their kids home from school in protest to Newsom’s upcoming mandate.

Chinsio-Kwong said parents should talk to their pediatricians.

“Parents do have time to have that critical discussion with their pediatrician or their primary care provider to really talk over their concerns with a vaccine,” she said.

Chinsio-Kwong also said medical, personal and religious exemptions would be allowed if the mandate is implemented by the state. 

However, she said if the COVID vaccine mandate becomes part of legislative law like other required vaccines, only medical exemptions would be permissible.

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The Ocean View resolution argues the mandate without exemptions would drive students away from traditional in person K-12 schools and cripple the state’s public school system.

Trustee Norm Westwell said the resolution didn’t go far enough and that he didn’t support the mask mandate either, adding that it will have grave consequences on the Democratic party in the upcoming elections.

Board President Patricia Singer and Trustee Gina Clayton-Tarvin said that the resolution against the vaccine mandate was not a political issue.

Singer said she spearheaded the resolution in an effort to hear from parents who are worried about the mandate and from parents who feel empowered by the mandate.

“With this resolution, we’re just saying we hear you and we understand and we respect your choice to make what’s best for your children and so I hope that the community understands that we are not ready to make medical decisions for your children,” she said.

The Capistrano Unified School District — one of the biggest districts in the county — also passed a similar resolution in October.

[Read: Debates Over the COVID-19 Student Vaccine Mandate Flare Up at OC School Districts]

Meanwhile, the Santa Ana Unified School District has started to launch vaccine clinics for children five and up in an effort to make the shots more accessible to one of the hardest hit communities in the county.

[Read: Will School Vaccination Sites Help Close the Latino COVID-19 Gap?]

More districts, however, may follow the lead of the Capistrano and Ocean View School Districts.

At the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District meeting on Nov. 16, Trustee Shawn Youngblood requested a future resolution against the vaccine mandate be brought before the board.

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Last week, some parents kept their kids home from school and dropped off shoes at school district offices in Orange County the night before in protest to the mandate.

This included the Capistrano, Placentia-Yorba Linda and the Newport-Mesa Unified School Districts.

“No significant impact to attendance on either day. We received 200-300 shoes, all of which were donated,” said Annette Franco, spokesperson for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

Others are criticizing condemning the visuals of shoes being used to protest the mandate as anti-semitic symbolism.

Shoes of Jewish people killed in Nazi death camps were left in piles and the images have become symbolic of the Holocaust today.

Earlier this year, local Jewish community leaders condemned people comparing digital vaccine records to the Holocaust. 

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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