On Monday, Dec. 13, Vallecito Union School District (VUSD) continued discussions of COVID-19 policy from their previous meeting on Nov. 17. At that meeting, the board resolved to rewrite their intended resolution regarding potential vaccine mandates in schools. The resolution now recognizes that “several district parents and community members have expressed concerns with the proposed vaccination mandate,” and also recognizes the board’s responsibility to “ensure a safe environment” and comply with the law, especially given potential costly legal and financial threat.

The school board, along with others in the county, have received notification of what those consequences could be, and they potentially include increased liability, litigation or lawsuits, criminal charges, and loss of critical school funding.

The decision may also have been influenced by California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent appearance on the ABC show “Good Morning America,” where he appeared to be walking back his commitment, or at least indicating a need for more flexibility, regarding vaccination mandates in schools. Newsom appeared on the show to discuss his new children’s book, “Ben & Emma’s Big Hit,” but also discussed how the pandemic is affecting California schools.

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), for example, one of the first in the country to adopt its own vaccination policy for staff and students, is facing a potential loss of 34,000 unvaccinated students who would not be able to return to school in the new year under the current policy. 

Newsom stated, “we want to keep the kids in school,” and that the state “has outperformed the country” at doing so as a result of the mandates and policies in place. Though he lauded the “hundreds and hundreds of thousands that did move forward” with vaccinations, he acknowledged that LAUSD may need to amend its policy in order to keep kids in schools.

“You have to accommodate, and I have all the confidence in the world the school board will work to accommodate,” said Newsom.

He also commented on the fact that California’s mandate allows personal exemptions, in addition to religious and medical, saying “there’s plenty of latitude for families to make decisions. …L.A. is slightly different, and we’re going to have to obviously work through that with that district.” 

His comments might ease some parents' fears that exemptions will be difficult, or impossible to get for their children, which has been brought up at school board meetings across the county.

Armed with this knowledge and the fact that parents in the community are still concerned, the VUSD school board decided this week to postpone action on its COVID-19 policy and to wait for further direction from the state regarding Covid procedures, particularly enforcement of vaccine and mask mandates. The board is able to do so as the vaccine mandate announced by Gov. Newsom on Oct. 1 will not go into effect until the FDA has approved the vaccine for all school-age children, which likely won’t be until next school year.

The resolution adopted last month includes the following statements:

“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Board will continue to gather factual information related to the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to California public schools….will follow all legal requirements related to COVID-19 to ensure student safety and avoid liability including the potential loss of funds…will not take proactive action or measures to enforce any vaccination mandate prior to any legal vaccination requirement for district students and staff…the district supports parents and community members advocating their beliefs and perspectives regarding their child's education by communicating to the appropriate assembly persons, lawmakers, and/or government representatives that have the authority to impact public education….the district requests State authorities to provide timely guidance for a plan and criteria for K-12 schools to be able to lift the mask mandate for in-person instruction.”

The board also stated their intent to send the resolution to Gov. Newsom and other public officials in California and Calaveras County. Gov. Newsom has been at the forefront of COVID-19 policy, mandating mask-wearing and vaccines before any other state. Just this week a new statewide mask mandate was announced, requiring California residents to wear masks in all indoor spaces again until Jan. 15, in order to curb the recent surge of Covid cases. Schools are one of the few places where face masks have been required, regardless of vaccination status, despite the lessening of restrictions last June.

School board members and superintendents have the difficult task of complying with constantly changing policy, state and federal law, as well as meeting health and safety requirements, keeping the schools open, and keeping parents and kids happy. 

In a letter to the editor published in this week’s issue of the Enterprise, Ralph Emerson of Murphys praised the VUSD board for their decision to delay acting on the mandate, saying “they have a very difficult job, and at times there is no perfect solution, but as one who understands the consequences of public service, thank you, Mark, Tom, Sarah and Tom, for delaying any decision until more information is received.”

Parents and community members have been vocal about their disapproval of the vaccine mandates at multiple district school board meetings, as well as at area protests.

Mark Twain Union Elementary School District (MTUESD) board member, Kendall Morlan, commented on the Governor’s recent statements regarding the vaccine mandate, saying she is “hopeful” and that she thinks “the tide is starting to turn.” Morlan believes the vaccine mandate was unnecessary in the first place, stating that “over 50% (of children) already had Covid and have herd immunity,” and also saying “people are already getting vaccinated and its working, so there’s no need to force it.”

 Morlan thinks Newsom might be backtracking on the vaccine mandates for political reasons, commenting,  “I think the reality is hitting, and it’s a practical thing for him, not really an ethical thing like it is for us. I’d prefer people have a choice.”

VUSD mom Amanda Monaco has been actively protesting the mandate and is passionate about her right to choose not to vaccinate her child.

Monaco feels that the mandates and policies surrounding Covid-19 are politically-motivated as well, and not in the best interest of her children. At last month’s meeting, she brought her case before the board, declaring “my children are not Democrat or Republican, this isn’t political for us,” and emotionally telling the board members, “I’d rather have you guys in jail than my child dead, over a vaccine.”

In a conversation with Monaco, the mother of two told the Enterprise, “My child is not and will never be responsible for anyone’s health until the age of 18 when they have to make those adult choices. Then, in that case, they choose for themselves. But until then my job as their mother is to advocate for what I feel is in their best interest.”

With emotional, fearful parents on both sides of the issue, and likely more state-ordered policy changes to come, the VUSD board may have to make some difficult decisions, as others like MTUESD  and CUSD have. For now, they’ll keep kids in school wearing masks, and wait to see what comes down the pipeline from state and federal officials regarding the vaccine.

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Marie-Elena studied creative writing, art, and photography at University of Nebraska at Omaha, graduating with a BA in Studio Art -Visual Media. She moved to California from Nebraska in 2019 and is happy to call Calaveras County her home.

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