Local school administrators and school board members came before the Board of Supervisors last week to voice opposition to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s impending mandate that will require schools to refuse enrollment to students unvaccinated for the COVID-19 virus. Speakers asked that the board advocate for those who want a choice in the matter, rather than a mandate.
From Public Health
“As you know the FDA put out the EUA that children 5 to 11 years old can now be vaccinated,” Trinity County Public Health Director Marcie Jo Cudziol said. “We are engaging our medical providers to vaccinate their pediatric population. I’ve always advocated for children to get vaccinated in their medical homes and I think medical providers know those children well.” Cudziol said the Public Health branch is essentially a ‘safety net’ if it’s mandated that schoolchildren be vaccinated.
She said that a personal belief exemption exists for the governor’s order, and an order cannot go into effect until the FDA licenses the vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds, which may not happen until July. The mandate will likely go into effect at the start of the next school year, she said.
She told the board that county vaccination rates are slowly ticking upward, and the county is also offering boosters.
From the districts
Trinity County Office of Education Supt. Sarah Supahan said she was upset that the state plans to put such a burden on schools. She said most school districts in the county already only have one administrator who is serving in several roles already.
“What we’re told to do, we have to do,” she said, “or else our funding will be lost, liability issues could be huge, and all of those things could hurt our kids. What we want to encourage is for people to talk to the state, contact your legislators, talk to the governor, call and write letters. What we are doing as a county and as school districts are to write those letters ourselves if a board chooses to.”
She said that while the districts have employees who are on both sides of the topic, their issue is with the state’s mandates.
When asked, Supahan said school mandates have come from the governor, not the state school board, and that Trinity County schools have not received any orders to that end.
“He himself cannot take away the personal exemption,” she said. “All the other vaccines up to 2016 do not have that personal exemption choice, they have a medical exemption.” She said any other vaccines added for enrollment in schools will need to have a personal exemption option. She said while the governor cannot overrule that law, the state Legislature may do so. She suggested citizens use the next couple months of legislative downtime to get letters together to send to the state to retain the option of choice for students and parents.
Mountain Valley Unified School District Supt. AnnMarie Swanstrom asked for board advocacy regarding the pending mandate, saying “it will absolutely devastate my district.”
She predicted that 40 percent or more of parents will pull their children from schools if mandated to vaccinate them for COVID.
“More than half of my staff is not vaccinated, and does not plan to be vaccinated,” she said. “We have the choice right now of testing, but once that choice is taken, I will lose and inordinate amount of staff as well.” She said the school is the heart of the Hayfork community, providing resources and activities for many and the “overreach” mandate could also damage the community.
“I want to get in front of this before it lands in our laps,” she said, adding that other districts will be asking the state for an option, rather than a mandate. She said the state will audit and penalize her district if unvaccinated students are allowed to enroll, and the district will lose funding and students if it follows the rules.
Trinity Alps School Board trustee Jim Morey of Junction City said he’s also advocating for choice, saying several community members have voiced opposition to mandates at board meetings.
He said it’s being considered that area boards come together as a consortium to create resolutions that represent people in the North State.
MVUSD School Board member Heather Gossman said she and her husband oppose a mandate, saying vaccines have only been safety tested on children for months, and long-term effects of the vaccine are yet unknown.
“I feel the mental and emotional toll that would be placed on our already-traumatized children would be difficult to reverse if they are then forced out of school, away from their teachers and friends, away from the valuable education they receive and away from the social environment that plays a crucial role in molding them into caring, compassionate and responsible adults,” she said, asking for board support.
Heidi Rupp, a Weaverville resident and teacher at Douglas City Elementary School, asked in a letter that the board stand with teachers, students and parents who oppose the mandate, adding that there is no legal penalty for doing so.
“Our state and county public health departments are unwilling to enforce their own policies so they shifted the responsibility of the schools,” Rupp wrote. “This puts an unfair burden on the school staff with people who spent years of their lives to be trained educators, not public health enforcement officers.” She said that when parents pull their kids and staff leave, it will make school staff jobs even more difficult and create unequal access for students.
“If Public Health wanted to save lives, it would mandate the pneumonia vaccine for our 65 and older population, being that pneumonia kills 290 times the number of individuals in that age group every year, compared to the number of zero to 17-year-olds COVID has taken from us in 22 months.” She said kids are not at risk and schools have not been shown to facilitate spread. Rupp asked that the board stand with those who oppose mandates.