California on Wednesday became the first state in the nation to require all teachers and other school staff to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 or be tested weekly, following in the footsteps of several of the state’s largest school districts.
“We think this is the right thing to do,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “It’s a sustainable way to keep our schools open, and it addresses parents’ anxiety that schools are doing everything in their power to keep kids safe and healthy.”
When Newsom announced the public health order Wednesday morning at Carl B. Munck Elementary school in Oakland, students were attending their third day of school amid a nationwide surge in infections due to the delta variant.
Newsom said it was a “series of conversations” with districts, labor unions and public health officials that led to the new requirement. California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd, California State PTA President Carol Green, the California School Employees Association and SEIU California Executive Board Member Max Arias all expressed support for the new requirement.
“Today’s announcement is an appropriate next step to ensure the safety of our school communities and to protect our youngest learners under 12 who are not yet vaccine eligible from this highly contagious delta variant,” Boyd said. “(It) provides an important alternative for those educators who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, while continuing to send a strong and clear message that every one of us — educators, eligible students, parents and staff — must be doing everything we can if we hope to win this fight against Covid and keep our schools open safely. The health of each one of us depends on the work of all of us.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, on July 26, said more than 90% of the national teachers union’s members were fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Elisa Teel, who teaches Spanish at Argonaut High School in Amador County, said she supports the requirement since getting vaccinated is about more than just one’s own health — it’s about the health of the school community.
“Obliging people to be vaccinated is something that’s for everyone’s health, I would do it for myself as well as I would do it for my students,” Teel said.
The state stopped short of requiring school staff to be vaccinated last month, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced July 26 that all state employees and health care workers would have to prove that they were vaccinated or get tested weekly. At the time, he said that since school staff were employed by their districts it would be up to each district to determine whether they would require vaccinations.
The requirement extends not only to public school employees but also to private and charter school employees. Districts will have until Oct. 15 to comply. It will be up to the district to enforce the mandate, but Newsom said he is confident that teachers and school staff will meet the new requirement. School staff must also show proof to their district that they are vaccinated if they say they are.
Newsom said state officials are keeping a “flexible mindset” and are willing to consider a vaccine mandate for school staff without the option of getting tested weekly, but that the vaccine-or-testing mandate was the “next appropriate step.”
Government and education officials, as well as union officials, commended the requirement Wednesday. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called the decision “truly a show of leadership, not just from our governor but from our labor leaders.”
Schaaf said it’s particularly important in light of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statement Monday that the Florida State Board of Education could withhold district superintendents’ and school board members’ salaries if they require students to be masked in accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance.
Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the State Board of Education, said she hopes the requirement will lead to even more Californians getting vaccinated, and said it is “critically important to making sure we have a joyful, productive and engaged school year in California.”
Said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland: “It has been made very clear over the past year that there is no substitute for in-person learning. Our children — especially children from low-income communities — cannot afford to take steps back on their education after the difficult year that we just had. While some states are ignoring this public health challenge, and even banning masks at school, California, thank God, is taking the necessary steps to protect our children.”
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