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San Diego Unified webinar offers answers about school district’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement

SDUSD representatives addressed questions about COVID-19 vaccination requirements during a Sept. 30 webinar.
San Diego Unified School District representatives addressed questions about COVID-19 vaccination requirements during a Sept. 30 webinar.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The event was co-presented by a statewide parent group begun by a La Jolla parent and a UC San Diego professor.

Two days after the San Diego Unified School District board voted unanimously to require full COVID-19 vaccinations for all staff members and students 16 and older, the district held a webinar Sept. 30 to lay out further details of the mandate.

The event was held the day before Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California would be the first state in the nation to require all staff and eligible students at public and private schools to be vaccinated once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives full vaccine approval for their age group.

Hundreds protest the district’s requirement, which currently affects students 16 or older.

A co-presenter of the webinar was Californians for Safe Schools, a statewide parent group begun as San Diegans for Safe Schools by La Jolla parent Dawniel Stewart and fellow SDUSD parent and UC San Diego associate professor of psychiatry Lisa Delano-Wood. The group has urged more COVID safety measures in San Diego Unified.

The event also addressed questions Stewart gathered from parent outreach related to other district COVID-19 policies.

Under the vaccination mandate in San Diego Unified, which operates five public schools in La Jolla, staff and students 16 and older must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Monday, Dec. 20, so they can achieve full immunity by Jan. 4, said Susan Barndollar, executive director of nursing and wellness for the district.

Vaccination will be required to attend school in person. Those who don’t comply will need to have remote learning via independent study.

Students younger than 16 will be required to test regularly for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. They, too, would have to get vaccinated once the FDA has fully approved a vaccine for their age group.

Currently the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is fully approved only for people 16 and older. It has emergency authorization for children ages 12-15.

During the webinar, SDUSD board President Richard Barrera said “it’s important for everybody to understand that the vaccine requirement will apply at some point for 12 and older.” He said the district will revisit the issue at its board meeting Tuesday, Oct. 26.

Barndollar said families can make a vaccination appointment at myturn.ca.gov. The district also is running vaccine clinics at various sites. Students younger than 18 must have parental consent to get vaccinated.

District physician Dr. Howard Taras said the vaccination mandate also will apply to contractors, volunteers and other campus visitors who aren’t employed by the district.

Barrera said he’s worried about parents not having clear information about the requirement.

“We think … the great majority of parents, once they understand why a vaccine requirement is in place and why it’s the best strategy for not only their own children’s safety but everybody’s safety … will choose the vaccine option,” he said.

Barndollar said district-evaluated medical exemptions will be allowed and that students who need more time to get vaccinated, such as those who are homeless, recent refugees, from military families or in foster care, will be allowed a “conditional entrance” in schools for up to 30 days past the Dec. 20 deadline.

Barrera said students will not get exemptions from the vaccine based on religious or personal beliefs, as the state doesn’t allow such exemptions for other mandated vaccines.

“There is not an option in California for a personal belief or a religious exemption,” he said, “and we think there’s good reason for that. The vaccine requirements are based on health and safety.”

Under federal law, however, the district must allow religious exemptions for staff.

Barndollar said coronavirus testing is currently mandated for unvaccinated staff members and high school athletes, with testing offered weekly at all school sites. It is optional for other staff and students.

Test results and other district coronavirus data are updated often and posted at bit.ly/SDUSDCOVIDdashboard.

Contact tracing and notifications of positive cases follow the San Diego County Office of Education’s guidelines, which also delineate quarantine lengths and conditions for return to school, Barndollar said.

A campus-wide “general notification” is sent once a positive case is identified at a school, she said.

Close contacts, which Barndollar said “are defined as within six feet of that infected person for longer than 15 minutes, with or without a mask,” are notified separately. ◆