It has recently come to my attention that the Santa Barbara School District will be terminating teachers who are unvaccinated as of November 1, 2021. I am extremely concerned about this for many reasons, but perhaps the most pressing reason is that the students will suffer yet again from an upheaval in their education. Coming off of one and a half years of compromised academic instruction, our students can ill afford another setback. Particularly in core subjects in which they are already resting on a shaky foundation.
We are currently experiencing a teacher shortage in this county. Substitute teachers will not be able to match the instruction that seasoned and experienced teachers are currently delivering. Furthermore, this doesn’t begin to address the emotional toll that this will likely take on our kids. Teachers form meaningful, impactful relationships with their students, when they meet in person. This has not been occurring for so long now, and to have this ripped away from them is unforgiveable. It does not appear that any genuine thought and consideration has been given to the long-term impact of these decisions on our students’ emotional and social development. I am gravely concerned about the long-term impact of the education our students have received during COVID.
It is not possible to ensure 100 percent safety from anything. All we can do is to reasonably address risks. The school district’s intention to force staff and students to have vaccines is not a reasonable step to reduce the risk of COVID. Vaccinated people can still expose others to COVID. Reasonable steps contemplate that we cannot completely eliminate a risk and balance it against the costs of taking steps to reduce the risk. The district’s proposals are not reasonable. The impact of their proposals will cause irreparable harm to our community. Our community has become unnecessarily divided, and the school district’ s course of actions will only serve to deeply entrench those divisions. These are not the lessons to be taught to our students.
Presently, measures exist that provide reassurance that our students and school staff are as safe as reasonably possible. There is no need to resort to such draconian measures.
I urge the Santa Barbara school district to stop this plan to terminate teachers and require vaccines of staff and students. It is the right thing to do for our students, our schools, and our future. —Lisa Spencer
Editor’s Note: A requirement to vaccinate students was made by the governor on October 1; S.B. Unified has not yet implemented the order, which phases in over time, depending on FDA approvals of vaccines based on age groups. Board president Kate Ford replied to this letter as follows:
This situation is fluid and constantly changing, as with everything related to COVID-19, but termination of teachers is a last resort. Teachers and staff were asked to inform the district of their intent, from the following choices: not be vaccinated and resign, apply for a religious or medical exemption, or apply for a deferral and put off the vaccination temporarily for a verifiable reason.
The district will follow up on the responses, treating each person as an individual and working to find a positive solution. Positions or job duties may change, and accommodations — such as frequent testing or an assignment that minimizes contact, like independent studies conducted virtually — may be made so employees can continue to work. The goal is to problem solve in a humane and reasonable manner. —Kate Ford