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COVID: Oakland School Officials Approve Vax Mandate For Students; Health Officials Weigh Statewide Rule

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- A day after Oakland Unified School District officials approved a COVID-19 health mandate late Wednesday that will require all eligible students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated, parents and teachers were reacting to the decision.

The district -- which serves about 50,000 students -- was the first in Northern California to require student vaccinations, joining mandates already in place for public school systems in Los Angeles — the second largest in the U.S. — and Culver City.

The Hayward Unified School District Board of Trustees also approved a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all students 12 and older at their meeting Wednesday night, it was announced Thursday afternoon..

Under the HUSD order, students eligible for the shots must present proof of vaccination by December 17, 2021, the last day of classes before the district's Winter Recess.

Most public school students in the Piedmont Unified School District also must now get vaccinated against COVID-19, following a Wednesday night vote by the school board.

Vaccine-eligible Piedmont Unified students have until Nov. 17 to provide proof they have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the school board policy revised Wednesday night. Piedmont Unified's school board voted 5-0 in favor of the policy.

The board for the Oakland Unified School District on Wednesday night approved a vaccine mandate for students 12 and older, excluding students who are exempt by law or receive a personal belief exemption.

"This will keep our kids in school more," Piedmont Unified school board Vice President Megan Pillsbury said. "And it will protect them and keep them safe as well as our staff."

Piedmont Unified students who become age-eligible after Wednesday have eight weeks after they are eligible to show they are fully vaccinated. Students who are unvaccinated and do not have an exemption from a licensed doctor will be moved to independent study, according to the policy.

Students who receive an exemption from a doctor must be tested for COVID-19 once a week.

California health officials were watching closely as they considered rolling out similar measures statewide.

As to when the mandate may take effect, OUSD officials seem to be leaning toward January.

The measure passed by a 5-1 margin with Board President Shanthi Gonzales abstaining. It mandates that all students 12 and older be fully vaccinated with exemptions for medical or religious belief reasons. A weekly testing alternative was not a part of the mandate, at least for students. Teachers and staff will be allowed to test instead of getting the shot.

According to information shared by Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, roughly 34% of the district's African American students have been vaccinated and 55% of Latino students.

Gonzales was concerned about the message the mandate sends to parents who are reluctant to have their children vaccinated.

"My concern is that sending those families a message that they're not welcome and not allowed to come to school anymore," Gonzales told the East Bay Times.

The board ordered Johnson-Trammell to return in October to discuss and present plans for enforcing the new rule, including when to begin enforcement.

California's top health official on Thursday said they're monitoring local school board decisions and considering a mandate for in-person learning, but no decision has been made yet.

Asked at a Thursday morning media briefing if the state will require eligible school children be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend in-person classes, California's secretary of health and human services said there is "no definitive action or decision" right now.

But Dr. Mark Ghaly said requiring students be inoculated to attend school is nothing new.

"We're watching the experience in Los Angeles, understanding what it means for students and families alike, staff as well, and watching as other counties consider the same," he said. "So that conversation is happening."

"If they come out and say students should be getting vaccines and should be required across the state, that would certainly help us and impress upon everybody the importance of this," said OUSD spokesperson John Sasaki.

Details of enforcement, exemptions, and how the district will keep track of vaccination status, are being discussed.

"At the moment, there are no parameters set as to what it's going to look like, how it's going into effect, and how it's going to be enforced," said Sasaki.

Some parents say it's the latest example of local officials taking it a step too far.

"Someone else is making a decision for my child and I don't get to have any say about," said Oakland parent Risha Wallace. "I definitely want students and teachers to be safe but same time, these our our kids and we should be able to make decisions for them as we see fit."

Assembly member Buffy Wicks is leading the charge, with new legislation next year for a state-wide vaccine mandate.

"This would be in my opinion adding one more vaccine to the long list of vaccines that are required for a global pandemic we are coming out of and surviving from. To me this is the obvious next step and it's what I think our public health officials are going to be leaning towards as well," said Wicks.

Several other school boards in the San Francisco Bay Area are considering similar measures, including West Contra Costa County Unified and Berkeley Unified, as schools try to navigate in-person instruction during the pandemic.

Hours before the OSUD meeting, teachers in the district voiced complains about a lack of COVID safety within their classrooms.

"We think the district has the funds to make a weekly testing happen now at every single school site to keep things as safe as possible, for students and staff and families," OUSD teacher Sarah Goudy told KPIX 5.

Topping the list of concerns for the Oakland Education Association is testing. That is currently offered on-site at 10 campuses but teachers would like to see it expanded to every campus and offered weekly.

"At my school, REACH Academy, we've had over 30 positive COVID cases," said teacher Megan Bumpus. "The more cases you have, the more testing you get, but we need that testing to be consistent."

District officials, meanwhile, say they are satisfied with the current testing program.

"We are very confident that the testing procedures and protocols that we have in place are working," said Sasaki. "We've actually seen a pretty clear decline in numbers from the first couple weeks of school."

KPIX cameras found one of the 10 testing sites open and equipped on Wednesday. But Oakland Unified says it's facing the same challenge as every school district and that's a shortage of tests. Supplies from the county and the state have been inconsistent, meaning it's had to limit the number of take-home tests it can give to staff members.

"We have orders for the state to get us more tests and we look forward to having those and distributing them to the schools," Sasaki said.

The union's other demand is better air filtration.

"Industrial strength HEPA filtration in every single large space," Bumpus said. "And we also need additional resources for outdoor dining."

Again, the district says it's working on that and it points to its COVID case dashboard as evidence that the efforts are producing safer schools. There were 30 student cases district-wide last week, that's down from more than 100 in the first week of the school year.

"As it stands, right now, it feels like we are moving in the right direction with regard to where we are with testing, with the results we're seeing and the number of cases we're dealing with," Sasaki said.

Kenny Choi contributed to this story.

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