SBUSD Proposes Mandatory Vaccinations for Staff; Potential for Mask Mandate at Events Larger than 250 People

By Nick Masuda   |   September 22, 2021

The Santa Barbara Unified School District board will hold a special meeting on September 23 to vote on a proposed resolution that will make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for staff, while the Montecito Journal has learned that two school board members are gearing up to also propose requiring masks at events larger than 250 people, regardless of being indoors or outdoors.

According to the resolution, the following actions will be taken if approved:

• In the 2021/2022 school year, all certificated and classified staff will be required to be vaccinated. Medical and religious exemptions will be considered. The previous testing in lieu of the vaccination option is no longer applicable.

• Being vaccinated against COVID-19 shall be considered part of every regular assignment for all employees, subject to any applicable collective bargaining requirements.

• All SBUSD staff are required to provide proof of vaccination. Unvaccinated staff shall obtain the first vaccination shot prior to October 1, 2021. The second vaccination, if applicable, no later than November 1, 2021.

• In addition to SBUSD staff, all persons coming onto district school sites shall also be required to be vaccinated and will be subject to providing proof of vaccination.

• It is also recommended that families and students ages 12 and over be vaccinated.

• SBUSD students will be regularly tested to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially among asymptomatic people. The testing protocol should be adaptable to the conditions in our community and to the appropriate age group needs.

• SBUSD administration is directed to promptly develop written procedures for the implementation of this resolution and take all actions necessary to carry out these requirements and to make provision for religious and medical exemptions or deferrals.

• In addition to COVID-19 vaccinations, all staff and members of the public and others coming onto a SBUSD site shall use face coverings in indoor settings, while among others, except while eating or drinking.

• The Board hereby delegates to the Superintendent the authority to implement and modify these requirements, including based upon changing conditions, and to maintain conformance with the requirements of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and other applicable authorities.

The SBUSD has spent the past week on the proposed protocols, with school board member Laura Cappspenning an OpEd alongside board president Kate Ford to explain why these next steps are needed.

The board has also received a handful of notes from concerned staff members already, including one from a SBUSD elementary school teacher that has left some board members believing this is why the more stringent rules must be put in place.

In this letter, the teacher told board members: 

“First of all, I do not think that this is a decision that should be made by teachers, staff, union members, or board members. We are not health care experts. We are not virologists or epidemiologists or ICU doctors. We get our information about COVID from the news, social media, and personal experience only. This information is highly polarizing and creates fear-based opinions. Our decisions regarding COVID should not be based on fear but on facts presented by health care experts within our community.

There are questions that I think staff and families need answered before talk of a vaccine mandate is brought up:

1. What percentage of staff and students that have contracted COVID were already vaccinated prior to infection?

2. What percentage of staff and students have contracted COVID at schools, as opposed to other social gatherings?

3. Does the vaccine prevent transmission of the virus?

4. Will staff be required to receive a booster shot every year (if applicable)?

5. Since we know that a vaccinated person can still contract COVID, although their symptoms should be less severe, why are we only testing the unvaccinated staff and students? Doesn’t this mean that vaccinated individuals could just be asymptomatic carriers/ transmitters of COVID? When are we going to be testing all staff and students, and shouldn’t we wait and see what those results tell us about transmission of the virus within our community before mandating a vaccine?

6. If a student or staff member has already gotten COVID, will they still be required to get vaccinated, even though natural immunity has been shown to be just as, if not more, effective at preventing reinfection?

7. Can we wait? The COVID vaccine is less than a year old. Just this week the FDA said that they are not recommending the booster for anyone 65 or younger. The science on this virus and the vaccine is changing all the time, which is the nature of science. Enforcing a vaccine mandate without having any long-term data seems reckless, especially if vaccinated individuals are still contracting and transmitting COVID.

Most importantly, are the unvaccinated staff the only ones catching and spreading COVID on our campuses? If not, a vaccine mandate should not be on the table for staff. We are educated adults who are aware of our own health needs and have discussed the risks and benefits of the vaccine with our own health care professionals. Continue testing us weekly, keep the mask mandates in place to protect everyone, and trust us to make a decision that is right for us and our families.

As for students, getting vaccinated should be a choice made by their parents, pediatrician, and themselves (if they are old enough). Mandating a vaccine means taking away a person’s bodily autonomy and this is not something that should be taken lightly. It means that many students whose parents are making medical choices for them will no longer have access to public education. I strongly believe that whatever decision is made on vaccine mandates for staff and students should be informed by pediatricians and other local doctors and health care experts. If their unwavering opinion is a mandate, then the board should begin discussing a vaccine mandate, but not before.”

Meanwhile, the board also received the following letter from a healthcare worker that works with the district.

“I am writing to ask you to oppose Board Resolution No. 2021/2022-09 regarding mandating that all Santa Barbara Unified School District Employees become vaccinated or possibly lose their job.  I do not believe that a school board should decide what I choose to put in my body.  

You state that “the overwhelming majority of infections are currently occurring in individuals who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.” Is this really true? Please provide the data that shows more unvaccinated staff are testing positive than positive staff.  Are you trying to say that if all classified and certificated staff were vaccinated, there would be no new positive cases? At my school site, we have had two positive staff COVID cases and both individuals were vaccinated. Every week, the superintendent puts out a newsletter with the number of students and staff that have tested positive, this information should include how many of those were vaccinated/unvaccinated. Vaccinated or not, we can all be carriers of the COVID-19 virus.

This resolution also states, “the paramount responsibility of the Governing Board of the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) is to provide for the health and safety of its students and staff.” How are 33 students, a teacher, and possibly additional adults in a classroom sitting inches apart from each other providing for the health and safety of our students and staff?”

And, finally, the board has also heard from an educator that works with some of the district’s special education students.

“I’ve worked as a Paraeducator in a moderate to severe program for the past three years. It’s tough work and it pays very little, and not many people are patient or interested in such work. If you mandate the vaccine, instead of allowing for testing, many people will choose to be terminated. I do not want to be terminated from my position, but if a vaccine mandate is a condition of employment with the district, I will be.”

For both Capps and Ford, the transparency that the school district can provide about vaccination status has been a frustrating one, as privacy laws protect individuals from having their personal health details shared publicly.

Instead, the district offers on their website the number of positive cases this week, since the start of school and the vaccination rate among staff members — currently at 85.7% fully vaccinated.

They also both told the Montecito Journal that they will be working on an additional resolution in an attempt to address large events sponsored by the district, potentially mandating masks for any event that involves 250 people or more.

As a parent of a school-aged child, Capps says she is committed to finding any way to offer transparency to parents, either through vaccinations or unilateral decisions that put everyone on the same playing field.

“No one knows if their teacher is vaccinated or not,” Capps said. “And that’s information that everyone wants to know. You want to know that the teacher that is in charge of your child all day is committed to helping kids practice social distancing, wearing masks, keeping them healthy. And that’s not something we can guarantee right now.”


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