From left to right: Wendy-Sims Moten, Laura Capps, Virginia Alvarez | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

The Santa Barbara Unified School District voted unanimously Thursday to mandate vaccines for all school district employees, without the option of testing, as about 50 protesters, many maskless with children in tow, converged outside the district building in opposition to the mandate. 

“We are here to keep our students safe in in-person learning,” said Board Clerk Wendy-Sims Moten. “I believe that this is what we are doing with this amendment.”

Back in August, the board passed a similar mandate but allowed employees of the district to opt for weekly testing if they did not or could not get the vaccine. However, as cases in the school and across the country continued to rise with the fast-spreading Delta variant, many in the district felt it was necessary to take the mandate further. 

Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

As of September 16, about 86 percent of the district’s employees have been vaccinated. School Boardmember Laura Capps said this is a good start, but the remaining employees who have not been vaccinated still interact with vulnerable children. 

“This is about more than our individual wishes,” Capps said. “This is about a collective need for public good, public health, and for our public schools.”

The new mandate requires all employees to receive their first shot before October 1, and the second no later than November 1. It would also require anyone coming into school sites to be vaccinated, and both employees and visitors to the district would be required to provide proof of vaccination. The resolution states that any medical or religious exemptions will be considered, but the weekly testing alternative will no longer be an option. 

Board President Kate Ford and Capps drafted the resolution that would become the new mandate. The resolution provides several reasons behind the decision, including the highly transmissible Delta variant, the large amount of unvaccinated staff testing positive, and the board’s responsibility to stop the spread in its schools. 

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The mandate was passed following hours of public comment, about 70 people in all, the majority of which were not in support. Those opposed gave many reasons for their position, ranging from objections that the personal freedoms of teachers and employees of the district were being violated to claims that the vaccine has “injured” people to the fact that those who have been vaccinated may still contract COVID-19. 

Some in opposition said they worked in the district, but the majority identified themselves as parents. 

The public commenters in favor of the mandate were local health-care workers, teachers, and parents. Erica Reyes, a district director for the U.S. House of Representatives, read a statement of support on behalf of Congressmember Salud Carbajal.

“The ongoing pandemic has impacted our daily lives,” Reyes said. “We have now reached the point where we have the tools necessary to mitigate the spread and loss of life.”

Joyce Adriansen, president of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association, also spoke in support of the mandate, citing a survey that was sent to the members of the association.

“This week we sent a survey to our members asking for a yes or no to the following statement: I support amending the current vaccine mandate to include mandatory vaccines for all S.B. Unified staff members with the exception of those who have valid medical exemptions,” Adriansen said. She said the association sent out 688 surveys, and received 345 responses, with 270 answering “Yes” and 75 answering “No.”

The resolution states that testing of students will continue, and recommends that anyone over the age of 12 receive the vaccination. The only change made to the resolution before it passed was updating the number of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 from 675,000 to 681,000 people. 

“This is about our community and doing what is best for kids to keep the school open,” said Boardmember Virginia Alvarez. “It’s serious; it’s not a political thing.”

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