OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Hours after both San Francisco and Oakland officials announced mandatory vaccinations or weekly testing for teachers, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday morning announced that the state would extend the mandate to all California school employees.
Newsom made the announcement that the state would require all school employees including teachers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing during an appearance at Claremont Middle School in Oakland.
After an introduction from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Rep. Barbara Lee, Newsom took to the podium and made the announcement, noting that they were united in their focus on safe and responsible in-person learning at California schools.
"This is a state that very proudly was among the first states in the country to mandate mask wearing in the public education system, before this school year and before the CDC aligned with that standard; before the Academy of Pediatrics aligned with that strategy. And before the controversies that have subsequently ensued," Newsom said.
The governor noted that the state would be facing challenges to keep schools open during the current case surge driven by the Delta variant, which was part of the reason for the new vaccination or testing mandate for all school employees.
"We're now following up today to align our school strategy to the state strategy to become the first state in the country to require that all of our staff -- not just just teachers; credentialed staff, para-educators, custodial staff, bus drivers -- folks who are critical to supporting the school ecosystem also submit a verification of vaccination and/or submit to weekly testing," Newsom said.
Newsom went on to say that the mandate was not only the right thing to do, but was a sustainable way to keep the state's schools open and "to address the number one anxiety that parents like myself have for young children: and that is knowing that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe."
The governor also referred to the nearly $124 billion of funding designated by the state's budget as an investment into California schools, advocating school for all as well as funding programs to promote the mental and physical health of all students.
Newsom noted that, even though California has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country with 77.5% of all eligible residents having received at least one dose, it still wasn't good enough.
After the announcement, the California Teachers Association issued a statement from the association's president E. Toby Boyd to voice the organization's strong support of the mandate.
"We know from our surveys that nearly 90 percent of educators have already been vaccinated. Yet in the past few weeks, we have seen a rising spread of the Delta variant, especially among children, just as the new school year is starting," the statement from Boyd read. "Educators want to be in classrooms with their students, and the best way to make sure that happens is for everyone who is medically eligible to be vaccinated, with robust testing and multi-tiered safety measures. 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."
Republican candidate in the current gubernatorial recall election John Cox issued a statement in opposition to the new mandate.
"Gavin Newsom is a power hungry politician who wants to control every aspect of people's lives," Cox said in the statement. "Now he is effectively threatening people's employment if they don't do what he tells them to. 90 percent of teachers are already vaccinated. This is just further government intrusion into people's personal lives."
Earlier Wednesday, both Politico and the Los Angeles Times reported that the announcement would be coming Wednesday morning during Newsom's visit to the Oakland Unified School District, which began 2021-2022 classes on Monday.
California is the first state in the country to issue a such a mandate amid a surge in delta variant COVID cases and schools reopening to widescale in-class instruction for the first time since March 2020.
At the nearby Pleasanton Unified School District, officials said they were prepared for such an announcement.
"It's not something that is entirely unexpected to us," said Patrick Gannon, spokesperson for the district. "We have spent the last year and a half providing opportunities for both our staff and our students to get vaccinated if they able to."
School employees will join state workers and healthcare workers who had previously been required for vaccinations or weekly testing.
The Los Angeles Unified School District on its own is requiring weekly testing of all students and employees, whether or not they are vaccinated.
Sacramento and Long Beach, meanwhile, have already implemented vaccination or testing measures.
In San Francisco, school officials announced that all district staff would be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly testing starting next month.
SFUSD officials announced Tuesday that the requirement for the district's nearly 10,000 employees would be effective September 7.
The district has urged workers to submit their proof of vaccination by August 31. So far, more than half of employees have submitted their vaccination status.
"Given that we are in the midst of rising cases and new variants in our community, a vaccine requirement is a necessary step to keeping our students, staff and families safe," Superintendent Vincent Matthews said in a statement.
Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez said the vaccine requirement is backed by members of the commission.
"We want to do everything in our power to keep our community safe and keep school buildings open for learning and connection," Lopez said. "The pandemic is unpredictable but we have learned so much along the way and we know that vaccines remain highly effective -- vaccinated people are much less likely to get severe symptoms that result in hospitalization or death from COVID."
The head of the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), the union representing the city's public school teachers, voiced her support of the vaccination requirement as well.
"As we all return to school buildings in person, we are glad that we can move forward welcoming students and families with excitement and ensuring the safest conditions possible in the midst of this continuing pandemic," said UESF president Cassondra Curiel.
Christy Samson says she's sending her 5-year-old daughter to kindergarten in San Francisco with more confidence, after the district's announcement.
"Thankfully living in San Francisco people are pretty open to vaccinating and I'm thankful for that due to the fact that my 5-year-old has asthma, and she cannot be vaccinated," said Samson. "So I'm okay with that right now and I really want to encourage people to get vaccinated."
Parents elsewhere in the Bay Area also voiced support.
"I believe it to be a wise decision. We want our children protected, Palo Alto parent Tatjana Azarova said.
Edris Marof, a parent of 4, said he thinks the new policy is fair.
"I believe so, if they're not vaccinated, they should be tested regularly just to be sure for their safety, and the safety of the kids," Marof said.
"The top three ways to protect the kids are vaccines, vaccines, and vaccines. And since they are not eligible for vaccines yet, the under 12 set that is, the best way to protect them is to form a wall of immunity around them," said UCSF Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong.
Oakland school officials issued a similar mandate that of Sept. 7 staff, contractors and volunteers must be vaccinated or be tested weekly.
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