Kate Ford (left) and Laura Capps | Credit: Courtesy

The Santa Barbara Board of Education meetings have recently seen groups from across the county speaking in opposition to the vaccine and vaccine mandates. As is the case at school boards across the nation, some of these protests have become platforms for spreading doubt and misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine. Some of the emails and public comments during meetings have morphed into personal attacks, and, in some cases, threatening specific members of the board. 

Board President Kate Ford and member Laura Capps recently wrote an op-ed for the Independent stating that vaccinating all eligible staff and students will be the best way to keep schools safe. Many in public comment at school board meetings have directed comments at Ford and Capps specifically.

Some messages even threaten retribution: “Now we will strip you of your jobs, your incomes, your housing, and your mobility — the latter by placing you in jail,” wrote a Goleta resident, also including several articles from Breitbart and Fox News, regarding private businesses being fined or sued over vaccine mandates. “We will do a citizen’s arrest against the whole lot of you.”

During a previous meeting, one-time Goleta City Council candidate Justin Shores accused Ford of passing the mandate as a way of “getting in” with the Democratic Party, later saying the decision cost her “her soul.” (Ford was not endorsed by the Democratic Party when she was elected in 2018.)

Ford said this characterization of herself, and the board, is disappointing and incorrect, claiming the board has never taken a position based on political alignment but that she tries to block out the noise and stay as informed as possible. 

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Another email written to board members read, “You have personally ruined the education of this generation of students … You are destroying children’s ability to even learn.”

And one, written by a health care worker at a school in the district, argued that the district should include statistics for those who contract COVID after receiving the vaccine, claiming two cases of COVID at the employee’s school were contracted by fully vaccinated people. “I do not believe that a school board should decide what I choose to put in my body,” the email read. 

“I think it’s unfortunate that this discussion has taken on the tone that it has,” Capps said. She has received messages from concerned parents throughout most stages of the pandemic, and more recently with the vaccine being encouraged to students 12 and up. Many are worried with the possible health risks, and Capps said she is “talking to experts” to do all she can.

It is up to the board to seek out and utilize various resources to find the best course of action, Capps said, from speaking to organizations such as the Public Health Department and local pediatricians for information on the vaccine and the possible side effects for young people, as well as looking at how other school boards in the state have handled similar situations. 

“We always try to communicate that the board is trying its best,” Ford said. “They just think we don’t know what the truth is.”

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