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WCCUSD joins districts requiring vaccine, a day before Newsom announces mandate

on October 1, 2021

Hours before Gov. Gavin Newsom made California the first state to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for school children, the West Contra Costa Unified School District voted on its own mandate, relieving some parents and angering others.

Late Thursday night, after five hours of debate in the desolate gymnasium of Lovonya DeJean Middle School, a vaccine mandate for students ages 12 and older received unanimous support from all but one. Trustee Jamela Smith-Folds voted against the mandate, which will go into effect in January and applies to students, staff and contractors working at district schools. 

The decision comes a week after the Oakland Unified School District mandated coronavirus vaccines beginning in January. In the past few weeks, several Bay Area districts have added the requirement, as the virus’ delta variant has spread, especially among children.  

Under Newsom’s Friday order, the requirement will kick in at the start of the school term that follows the federal government’s full approval of the vaccine for a particular grade level. For middle- and high-school students, that means the mandate could start in January.

WCCUSD’s requirement resembles that of Los Angeles Unified School District, allowing medical exemptions and giving students who do not comply the option to enroll at Vista Virtual for online learning.

The meeting was set with a day’s notice and came a week after many had expected the school board to discuss the vaccine. Superintendent Chris Hurst, however, postponed the discussion in an internal email that said more legal research was needed.

The lack of forewarning about Thursday’s meeting frustrated some, including Smith-Folds. Only a few members of the public were physically present, but over 300 attended virtually, expressing a range of support, opposition and concern. 

Joseph Glatzer, a seventh grade history teacher at Hercules Middle School, and Marissa Glidden, president of United Teachers of Richmond, encouraged the board.

“Please pass this mandate. Be a hero,” Glatzer said.

Glidden reaffirmed that the union is overwhelmingly in favor of it and reminded board members of their responsibility to keep everyone safe. In August, the union filed a state workplace complaint against the district, claiming it has been lax in establishing protocols to protect teachers from infection.

But some parents on Thursday threatened to pull their kids from schools rather than abide by a mandate. Among their concerns were that the vaccine was ineffective and that there was no way to know if it has long-term side effects.

Dr. Christopher Farnitano, Contra Costa County public health officer, told the board and audience that the vaccination is effective and that concerns about it are rooted in misinformation. 

He said any side effects would show up immediately because the vaccine leaves the body in a few days and nothing lingers to cause long term side effects.

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