What does the Kern High School District board think about efforts to roll back student-vaccination mandates?
The board had a chance to weigh in Monday night but skipped right over it, despite an anti-vaccination group’s warnings that it could face lawsuits over the requirement.
KHSD board members were scheduled to discuss a resolution requesting legislators delay the implementation of SB 277 for two years. That was in response to an email from Christina Heldebrand, president and founder of A Voice for Choice Advocacy, a nonprofit group that advocates against mandated vaccinations.
But board members did not address the item, which was up for discussion and public comment. KHSD Board Vice President Bryan Batey said no members of the public filled out comment cards and the lack of board discussion was probably an oversight.
When board members were asked about the item after the meeting, some were unaware of the matter.
“What was it? I don’t know anything about it,” KHSD Board Member Chad Vegas said.
When asked if he’d seen the item on the agenda, Vegas said, “We get all kinds of solicitations from people asking us to sign resolutions, but nobody came to the meeting.”
The oversight was particularly perplexing because Superintendent Bryon Schaefer had, at the beginning of the meeting, delivered an overview of the matter.
After the meeting, Schaefer said he was unsure if the board would take up the item again.
California law has for years required all students be immunized against certain diseases, including measles, mumps and whooping cough, unless parents file for a personal belief exemption or there’s a medical reason kids can’t get their shots.
SB 277, signed into law last June, phases out a personal beliefs exemption that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. It takes full effect July 1.
Heldebrand calls that law “a threat” to school district funds that may have to be spent if unintended consequences of the law result in lawsuits.
The bill’s implementation has been fraught with misinformation and unlawful directives from schools and districts statewide, Heldebrand said, adding that there are groups of “very ardent citizens” opposed to the law.
Signing a resolution requesting a delay would help prevent the district from being “at the top of the list for a potential lawsuit” should the law be implemented incorrectly by one of KHSD’s 18 schools, she said. Individual districts could be legally responsible if children are injured as a result of vaccines they are mandated to have to enroll, she warned.
“This is not about whether your school district agrees or disagrees with SB 277 or vaccination. Simply put, as a district you would not want to divert any of your funds from education, to instead be spent on a lawsuit,” Heldebrand wrote in a letter to board members.
The “anti-vaxxer” movement gained ground in 2014 after actress Jenny McCarthy publicly denounced vaccines when her autistic son began sustaining seizures in 2014. Other celebrities followed suit.
The same year, a rash of Californians contracted measles at Disneyland. Shortly after, California became home to the highest number of whooping cough cases in the nation, with almost 8,000 infected.
The anti-vaccination movement hasn’t gained a foothold in Kern County, though, with vaccination rates on the rise and trending above the state average.
Roughly 95.3 percent of kindergarteners were vaccinated this school year, up almost two percentage points from 2014-2015, according to the California Department of Public Health.
The rate was 92.8 percent statewide.