The board of the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District narrowly voted in favor of asking the state not to proceed with any additional vaccine mandates in schools.
The resolution, which passed in a 3-2 vote, is a response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s October announcement that he intends to direct the California Department of Public Health to roll out a vaccine mandate to students.
Trustees, the resolution stated, “respectfully request that the CDPH not proceed with the rulemaking process for vaccine mandates for students in K-12 schools upon full FDA approval of a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Trustee Bryan Easter requested that the resolution brought forward by trustee John P. Lake be amended to include school employees. Currently, employees can test regularly for COVID-19 in lieu of providing proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. The resolution passed with support from trustee Keith Wolaridge.
School leaders have said that neither the governor nor any state agencies have provided any guidance about how a vaccine mandate for students would be rolled out in the months since Newsom’s announcement. But parents and community members against the COVID-19 vaccine have been very vocal about their opposition to the potential for such a mandate. Opponents of the vaccine mandate have filled the chambers and public comment section of school board meetings around the state and county, including at PBVUSD’s.
“Some of those parents have explicitly stated that they will pull their children from school if they are forced to have them vaccinated against COVID-19,” the resolution noted.
Lake said that the district will ultimately comply with state law. However, he voiced his support for giving input to the appropriate state and regulatory authorities. The resolution is addressed to local state legislators, county health and political officials, as well as authorities in Sacramento.
“I do believe that those of us in this position have the duty to listen to our community and to observe and see with our own eyes what is happening with our children in our schools,” he said.
He said he thinks back with regret to the evening in March 2020 when he district shuttered its campuses. He said at the time, he made remarks about knowing what was right.
“In retrospect, I think that we all know it wasn’t right to pull kids out of school,” he said.
Trustee Elynor Cherie Olgin said little about her dissent, but she said that she also recalled Lake’s remarks from March 2020.
“I remember you also saying this will be over in two weeks,” she said.
Olgin and trustee Paula Van Auken provided the dissenting votes.
The resolution states that it is critical for the success of students that they be able to attend in-person learning. It states that California’s economy and school systems have been severely impacted by state measures to curtail the pandemic.
It adds that the effect of “various orders and mandates have eroded and impaired the ability of local Boards of Education to adapt and tailor COVID mitigation strategies to fit local conditions.”
The resolution also discusses how COVID affects children and vaccines. Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California, Irvine, noted that some of the points in the resolution mix “something that is true with something that is not established.”
Noymer stated that the resolution “reads more like a fig leaf for opposition to vaccines than it does read a scientific statement.”
The resolution states the long-term effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are not known. Noymer said this is true, but also that it’s “very unusual” for a vaccine to have long-term side effects.
“School-aged children are less likely to contract and transmit COVID-19, and are less likely to have serious outcomes than older populations,” the resolution stated.
Noymer said it’s been established that children are less likely to experience serious outcomes. However, Noymer said that children clearly play a role in transmission, though scientists hotly debate just how much.
“Current infection rates have dramatically fallen, along with COVID-19 deaths, with an increasing number of individuals being vaccinated,” the statement said.
Strictly speaking this is true, Noymer said. So far, the county recorded 47 COVID deaths during the month of November. In October, it recorded 137. COVID deaths haven’t abated since the rollout of the vaccine: In October 2020, 30 people died of COVID in Kern County.
Noymer said the state isn’t likely to face the question of mandating vaccines for older students until summer at the earliest, if not January. That’s likely the earliest date for full FDA approval. He added that he supports the resolution author’s intent to keep students in school.
“I probably have a lot more in common with this person than they imagine,” he said.