Placentia-Yorba Unified School District trustees this week joined a list of local school officials pushing back against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s expected vaccine mandate for students.
District trustee officials voted 4-1 at their Tuesday night meeting to adopt a resolution calling on Newsom and the state’s department of public health to reconsider their expected vaccine mandate for students to go to school in person.
Trustee Shawn Youngblood called for the resolution and said at the meeting he wished the wording was stronger.
“We need to at least make sure that the governor’s office knows that this is a major concern for our district and the parents of our district and the fact that we will probably lose out on a lot of kids attending if this mandate gets pushed,” he said.
Trustee Karin Freeman was the dissenting vote.
“I do feel that the vaccine has value. I think managing COVID surges rather than preventing cases is not a pathway to success in education,” she said.
This is the first regular meeting trustees in the district have been able to hold for more than five minutes this year without Board President Carrie Buck ending it over mask compliance.
There was a special meeting held outside last week to consider moving their February meeting to next Wednesday, the day after the statewide indoor mask mandate is supposed to end.
Tuesday’s meeting was also held outside the district offices.
Trustees in a couple of local districts like Ocean View and Capistrano Unified passed similar resolutions after Newsom announced plans last October to roll out a mandate requiring all students get their covid shot in order to attend school in person.
The mandate is expected to go into effect after the FDA fully approves the vaccine for more kids. Right now the Pfizer vaccine is only fully approved for people 16 and up.
Since the announcement, some parents across the county have been showing up to local school board meetings calling on their elected trustees to push back against the mandate, worrying about the vaccine’s safety for kids and the lack of research on it’s long term impacts.
At Tuesday’s meeting, many parents during public comments spoke against the vaccine and mask mandates and called for parental choice.
“It is a parental instinct to protect your children at all costs. I will not allow either of my children to be experimented on. It is my belief and choice that their natural immunity will be the best protection from this virus, should they catch it,” said a parent named Michelle.
Some spoke against their kids being removed from class for not wearing masks or for wearing mesh masks.
At the same time, there are parents who agree with the vaccine and mask mandates.
Dr. Sonia Dhaliwal, a physician, is one of the few parents in the district who speak in favor of vaccines at meetings.
“If we want the school mask mandate to be lifted, the safest way to do so is to get everyone vaccinated,” she said at the meeting.
Dhaliwal said in a Monday interview that she has spoken at several meetings and usually gets booed.
“At this last meeting, there was an incident where people did kind of surround me and get in my face and I know they’re trying to intimidate me,” she said. “There is some fear because I don’t know these people and I don’t know what they are capable of.”
Dhaliwal said the environment discourages people from not only speaking out in favor of masks and vaccines, but other issues in the district like ethnic studies. She also said some parents aren’t showing up to the meetings because they fear getting COVID.
“It shouldn’t be like that. Everybody should just be able to speak.”
While local and state health officials have said COVID itself presents a bigger risk than the vaccine and urged parents to get their children vaccinated, some parents have threatened to pull their children out of school over the expected mandate.
According to the Placentia-Yorba Linda resolution attached to the agenda, the district’s enrollment went down by 1,477 students since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
District staff said the decrease in enrollment has resulted in an almost $15 million loss in funding.
In the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, the districts’ enrollment went down by 571 students over both school years.
“This represents a 259% increase in declining enrollment when comparing the two years prior to the pandemic to the two years subsequent to the beginning of the pandemic,” reads the resolution regarding the decline in enrollment since the start of the pandemic.
The resolution argues that the mandate will lead a “substantial” amount of parents to pull out their kids and in turn result in a loss of jobs that will impact the state’s economy.
Trustees in the Ocean View and Capistrano Unified School Districts are also worried that the requirement would drive students away from traditional K-12 schools and disseminate the state’s public school system.
Enrollment at OC public school was already on the decline before the pandemic – gradually dropping from 497,116 students in the 2014-15 school year to 456,572 in the 2020-21 school year, according to state data.
The Placentia-Yorba Linda resolution also argues that the state’s case rates for kids 0-17 is proportionally lower than any other under-65 age group who have not been subjected to a vaccine mandate.
Survey results on parents and teachers’ thoughts on the vaccine mandate will also be sent to the state. District Superintendent Jim Elsasser said at Tuesday’s meetings the results will be posted next week.
Regardless of the pushback, state officials have recently introduced bills regarding pediatric COVID vaccinations.
One state bill introduced last month, if passed, would add the COVID-19 shot to California’s list of required vaccines for attending K-12 schools.
Another bill introduced in January would allow children to get vaccinated – including the COVID shot – without parental consent.
Meanwhile, OC kids under the age of five and as young six months old could soon be eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine.
A FDA advisory panel is expected to meet next Tuesday to decide if the benefits of the vaccine for kids under five outweigh the risks.
On the same day the advisory panel meets, California officials are expected to lift a statewide indoor mask mandate that went into effect two months ago.
But a mask mandate will still remain in effect at schools – at least for now and people who are not vaccinated would still have to wear a mask indoors.
“The state is continuing to work with education, public health and community leaders to update masking requirements at schools to adapt to changing conditions and ensure the safety of kids, teachers, and staff,” reads an update from the state’s department of public health on Monday.
More changes to the state’s policies will happen in the coming week, according to the update.
The update comes as officials from other states like New Jersey and Oregon announced plans to get rid of their mask mandates at schools, according to an NPR article.
Issues like masks and vaccine mandates have been flashpoints of debate among district trustees, parents, students and teachers at the Placentia-Yorba Linda school district and others throughout OC.
Parents across the county have also spoken out about mask mandates for students and even helds protests.
Trustees in districts like Placentia-Yorba Linda have also passed resolutions calling on the state to change mask mandates at schools.
Now parents are threatening to sue teachers for enforcing mask mandates in the classroom.
District Spokeswoman Alyssa Griffiths said in an email last week that families have shared a non-consent form with the district and school staff in effort to get them to reject the mask mandate.
“The document has been thoroughly reviewed by our legal counsel and determined to be without merit. The district is legally obligated to follow the state’s mask mandate and there is no personal liability, including any fines, if employees are acting within the course and scope of their employment,” Griffiths said in the email.
Blades has publicly argued that the district has not been consistent with mask enforcement.
At last week’s special meeting, Blades’ attempt to approve a resolution against removing kids from classrooms over masks narrowly failed with a 2-3 vote.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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