The Santa Barbara Unified Board of Education gave an update on vaccination and testing among staff and students Tuesday, as protesters gathered once again to condemn the vaccine mandate for employees and a potential mandate for students.
Last Thursday, the board mandated vaccines for all district employees, without the alternative option of frequent testing. All employees who have not been vaccinated would need to have their first shot by October 1. A small group of protesters, including members from Stand Up Santa Ynez Valley, which advertised the protest on social media, set up outside the school district building. Protesters teleconferenced into the meeting during public comment, as the board room is still closed to the public, and many said this decision would result in a mass walkout of district employees.
Following the mandate, the district reported Tuesday that 66 employees are seeking exemption or deferral from the mandate, and five employees have requested unpaid leave or resignation. Currently, the vaccination rate among employees is about 89 percent, and 51 employees said they have or will begin the process of vaccination.
“I do think there is cause for celebration of the rise in staff members that are vaccinated,” Board President Kate Ford said. “I continue to be concerned with the sobering fact that 26 percent of cases nationally are young students.”
So far this year, 58 students and 21 staff in the Santa Barbara Unified School District have contracted COVID.
Among secondary school students, about 23 percent or more than 2,000 students have been vaccinated. Though there currently is no vaccine mandate for students, vaccination or a recent negative COVID test is required for indoor school events such as art or athletic performances.
For elementary school students, of the 2,300 students testing for COVID, 11 tested positive, while 862 students have either not responded or not consented to testing.
Many of the same protesters appeared again Tuesday, armed with signs and lawn chairs, to address the board on the issue of vaccinating students. A petition signed by 1,400 people, created by Nicholle Montalvo, a parent, called the mandate for employees “tyranny” and claimed it was a violation of the Nuremberg Code. This comparison has been circulating through social media and has been debunked numerous times. The Nuremberg Code is a set of research ethics that came after the prosecution of Nazi doctors who experimented on camp inmates. Mandating an FDA-approved vaccine is not comparable to Nazis experimenting on inmates in a camp, because the COVID vaccine is not experimental.
These emotional testimonies carried over into public comment, with members of the public lambasting the board for approving the mandate and accusing boardmembers of approving the mandate to gain favor from political parties.
Justin Shores, who tried and failed to be elected to the Goleta City Council last year, accused the board of playing politics.
“You guys are here to just do what you’re told by your party,” Shores said. “They’re gleefully putting shots in people’s arms just because they were told to do it.”
Shores also directed some of his comments at Board President Kate Ford.
“Kate Ford looks like she just got a promotion from the Democratic Party … Kate Ford, how much did it cost? Your soul?”