Parents across the state took part in a school strike on Monday, Oct. 18, pulling their children out of class to protest Gov. Gavin Newsom’s vaccine requirement for students.

Earlier this month, California became the first state to require all students who attend in-person school to be vaccinated against COVID-19, pending full FDA approval for grades K-6 and 7-12.

The mandate also applies to school staff. The current verify-or-test requirement for staff will be converted to a vaccine requirement no later than when the first phase of the student requirement becomes effective.

The new regulations will take effect at the start of the term following FDA approval, which could be either Jan. 1 or July 1, whichever comes first.

“This will also give both parents and schools sufficient time to prepare and implement,” said Scott Nanik, superintendent of schools for Calaveras County. “It looks like July 1, 2022, could be the date for grades 7-12.”

At Albert A. Michelson Elementary School in Murphys, parents and students gathered across the street from the campus, holding signs that read “My child, my choice,” and citing low Covid mortality rates for children and fears of adverse effects of vaccination.

“We should be able to choose what goes inside our children,” said mother of two Erinn Montoya, who has one child in kindergarten at Albert A. Michelson. “They’re my babies. I birthed them. Not the government.”

Montoya said she will be homeschooling her children if the vaccine mandate goes into effect.

Father of three Mario Rojas began homeschooling his children prior to the current debate, around the time when, in 2015, California did away with vaccination exemptions due to personal or religious beliefs. Rojas says he does not regret his parental decision and that the homeschool community “has really come together.”

“Now, we’re fighting for our freedom,” he said. Rojas added that he is also worried about public school curriculum nationwide, which prevents him from simply moving his family out of the state. “What are they teaching? It’s beyond vaccines.”

One man, Bryan Duquesnel, said he attended the protest because he believes in the U.S. Constitution and “the right to choose.”

“The government doesn’t have the right to tell me everything I need to do,” he said. “This isn’t about (being) vaccinated or unvaccinated, it’s about the choice of whether you want it or not.”

According to Nanik, school districts have little choice in whether to implement the vaccine requirement, similar to the school face mask mandate, which California was the first state to implement.

“Enforcement does not appear to be optional and will fall under the same regulations as other required vaccines,” Nanik said. “Vaccines are reported through a state tracking system and failure to implement any required vaccine has consequences. It would be a violation of the law and could jeopardize staff credentials and district funding. It would also create a possible liability and negligence and thus an insurance concern.”

The vaccine requirement includes private, charter and non-classroom-based schools like Mountain Oaks, where students can attend some classes in-person.

In an email sent out several days before the strike, Vallecito Union School District Superintendent Tom Hoskins implored parents not to take their children out of school.

“We understand that families and students may have strong emotions and questions about COVID-19 safety measures, including vaccine and testing requirements. However, keeping children home from school to protest a COVID-19 vaccine requirement announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom, as posts on some social media outlets are suggesting, would only result in lost learning time for our students,” Hoskins wrote. “Our school funding will not be impacted by absences, but our children will be. Showing up for school has a huge impact on a student’s academic success starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school.”

While school funding may not be affected for now, it is a concern for the future. Nanik says that the state has not addressed that issue at this time.

It is currently unknown how many students have already left Calaveras County schools due to pandemic requirements including masking, though countywide attendance appears to be up by several hundred students since 2019, according to Nanik.

Polls indicate that the majority of U.S. parents are in support of masking in schools but not required vaccination against Covid.

A recent KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor report found that 54% of parents of all school-age children say schools should not require Covid vaccination, even with FDA approval. However, 63% supported mask requirements for unvaccinated children.

In an online poll of Enterprise readers, 56% of participants said that Covid vaccines should not be mandatory for students, while 41% said they should; and roughly 3% said vaccines should be mandatory until Covid cases are under control.

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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