West Contra Costa Unified and Oakland Unified are slated to become the first school districts in Northern California to require all eligible students to be vaccinated against Covid-19, along with teachers and staff.
School board members Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy and Otheree Christian will request a resolution at Wednesday night’s school board meeting calling for the mandate. It would give students ages 12 and older until Oct. 3 to get their first vaccine dose and until Oct. 31 to get their second. The resolution is expected to pass.
The school board was planning to hold a special meeting next Tuesday on the mandate, but Superintendent Kenneth Hurst announced to parents Thursday that it was canceled. Gonzalez-Hoy said he and Christian will request the resolution be brought to a future meeting.
Without an exemption for religious or medical reasons, students will have to enroll in the district’s virtual academy if they don’t comply. Students who will turn 12 during the school year will have a month after their birthday to get vaccinated.
Gonzalez-Hoy, in an interview, said requiring eligible students to get the vaccine in order to attend in-person classes is crucial to keeping classrooms open and preventing viral spread. He said the mandate is also a response to families and community members who have been calling for more stringent Covid safety measures.
“We’ve had a lot of outbreaks; we’ve had to send staff home and close classrooms,” Gonzalez-Hoy said. “I believe, through a vaccine mandate, that will decrease. Our priority is to keep kids in school, and I think this will help with that.”
Last week, the district had 49 Covid cases — eight staff members and 41 students. The district includes schools in Richmond and surrounding communities and enrolled about 27,000 students this year.
Gonzalez-Hoy said he hasn’t heard from any families within the district who are opposed to a vaccine mandate, though he expects to before or at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I think we have a very conscious community that does believe in the science,” Gonzalez-Hoy said. “I’m doing this because I’ve been hearing from parents, communities and staff that they really want this to happen, which brings me a lot of strength to move forward even though there might be some pushback.”
The district’s teachers union, United Teachers of Richmond, has also called for a vaccine mandate for eligible students. According to the district’s Covid dashboard, 93% of West Contra Costa Unified staff are already vaccinated.
In order to accommodate families who don’t comply with the mandate, the district will likely need to expand its virtual academy. As of the district’s most recent school board meeting on Sept. 8, 267 families remained on the waitlist for the virtual academy with only 102 available spots.
Nearby Oakland Unified is also expected to consider a vaccine mandate for students, the online publication Oaklandside reported Wednesday. The majority of Oakland Unified’s seven board members support the mandate, but others have reservations about potentially pushing students out of the classroom, according to Oaklandside.
Gonzalez-Hoy said the district has been meeting with other large urban districts, including San Francisco Unified and San Jose Unified, to discuss their own vaccine mandates.
Culver City Unified in west Los Angeles County was likely the first California district to impose a vaccine mandate. Los Angeles Unified, the largest school district in the state, approved a vaccine mandate earlier this month requiring eligible students to be vaccinated by January.
Editor’s Note: EdSource tracks the developments in the West Contra Costa Unified School District as part of a special project to illustrate some of the challenges facing urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and several other East Bay communities.
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