OAKLAND (CBS SF) – Without setting a schedule, Oakland Unified School District officials approved a COVID-19 health mandate late Wednesday that requires all eligible students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated.
The district – which serves approximately 50,000 students – was the first in Northern California to require student vaccinations, and it joined pre-existing mandates for public school systems in Los Angeles – the second largest in the US – and Culver City.
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When the mandate can take effect, officials seem to be leaning towards January.
The measure was adopted with a 5: 1 lead, with Chairman of the Board of Directors Shanthi Gonzales abstaining. It requires that all students aged 12 and over be fully vaccinated, with exceptions for medical or religious reasons. A weekly test alternative was not part of the mandate, at least for students. Teachers and staff are allowed to test instead of getting the shot.
According to Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, approximately 34% of the district’s African American students and 55% of Latino students have been vaccinated.
Gonzales was concerned about the message the mandate is sending to parents who do not want their children to be vaccinated.
“My concern is to send a message to these families that they are not welcome and are no longer allowed to go to school,” Gonzales told the East Bay Times.
The board ordered Johnson-Trammell to return in October to discuss and present plans to enforce the new rule, including when to start enforcing it.
When asked at a media briefing Thursday whether the state would vaccinate eligible school children for COVID-19 in-person classes, the California Minister of Health said there are “no final actions or decisions” at this time. But dr. Mark Ghaly said it was nothing new that students need to be vaccinated to attend school.
“We’re watching the Los Angeles experience, understanding what it means for students and families alike, including staff, and watching other counties view the same thing,” he said. “So the conversation is taking place.”
Several other school authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area are considering similar measures, including West Contra Costa County Unified and Berkeley Unified, as schools try to manage face-to-face tuition during the pandemic.
Hours before the OSUD meeting, teachers in the district complained about the lack of COVID security in their classrooms.
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“We believe the district has the resources to now conduct weekly tests at every single school location to keep the safety of students, staff and families as good as possible,” OUSD teacher Sarah Goudy told KPIX 5.
Testing is high on the Oakland Education Association’s list of concerns. This is currently offered at 10 on-site locations, but teachers would like it to be expanded to each campus and offered weekly.
“At my school, the REACH Academy, we had over 30 positive COVID cases,” says teacher Megan Bumpus. “The more cases you have, the more tests you get, but we need these tests to be consistent.”
The district officials meanwhile state that they are satisfied with the current test program.
“We are very confident that the testing procedures and protocols we have put in place are working,” said John Sasaki, spokesman for the Oakland Unified School District. “We saw a pretty significant drop in numbers in the first few weeks of school.”
KPIX cameras found one of the 10 test sites open and equipped on Wednesday. But Oakland Unified says it’s facing the same challenge as any school district, and that’s a lack of testing. Deliveries from the county and state have been inconsistent, which means limiting the number of takeaway tests that can be made available to staff.
“We have directed the state to get more tests and we look forward to having them and giving them to schools,” says Sasaki.
The union’s other request is better air filtration.
“Industrial strength Hepa filtration in any large room,” says Bumpus. “And we also need additional resources for eating outdoors.”
Again, the district says it is working on it, citing its COVID case dashboard as evidence that the effort is creating safer schools. There were 30 cases of students across the district last week, down from 100 in the first week of the school year.
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“As it stands, right now we feel like we’re going in the right direction in terms of the test stand, results, and the number of cases we’re dealing with,” says Sasaki.