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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Dozens of parents spoke for and against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students and staff during a special meeting with the Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Education. 

The board voted to enact a mandate later Tuesday night.

“The Sacramento City Unified School District took action at the October 12 Special Board of Education Meeting to require vaccinations against COVID-19 for both staff and eligible students (ages 12 and over) by November 30, 2021,” SCUSD said in a press release.

Among those who urged the board to adopt the governor’s mandate was Assemblymember Dr. Richard Pan.

“It’s really important school districts pursue policies, like you’re proposing — keep kids safe,” Pan said. 

Parent Jennifer Malone worried about the impact a mandate would have on the future of her son, a senior at McClatchy High School. 

“If we choose not to get him vaccinated, he would be moved off to the independent study program,” Malone said. 

She believes that would have a negative effect on his plans for the future. Malone said they’re not anti-vax parents. She adds that her son is fully vaccinated for all other mandated vaccines. 

“We just simply feel it’s too soon. We don’t have enough long-term data to say that this is going to be OK,” Malone said. 

Malone said students within the district should be allowed to undergo routine testing, which was part of what was considered by the board. The other option for students was to participate in independent study. 

The SCUSD said it will release more guidance later this month.

“The process to submit vaccination records, or to file an exemption for medical or personal beliefs, will be announced later this month for those opting to undergo regular routine COVID-19 testing,” SCUSD said.

Although Superintendent Jorge Aguilar supports a vaccine mandate, he said he recognizes the impact it would have on an already short-staffed program. 

He also released a statement before the vote Tuesday, which can be read in full below.

In my role as superintendent of Sac City Unified, I wake up every morning feeling the anxieties caused by this unprecedented pandemic and its threat to our work to meet the academic, social, emotional, nutritional and other needs of our students. For so many of our students, schools are a safe haven and I recognize that the Board’s consideration of this item is based on our collective commitment to meeting those student needs. 

By considering a vaccination mandate for students, we are taking a bold stand to protect public health. But we must do so with our eyes wide open and understand that there are implications that could impact our district beyond the public health benefit of increased vaccinations.

I would be remiss if I did not speak in greater detail about the considerations described by our team this evening related to implementation of this mandate.

Before I do, I want to express the frustration I feel in serving as superintendent leading a district where we have to consider programmatic and fiscal implications as we try to conquer this pandemic. This should not be the case….and I wish we did not face this dilemma….that Sac City Unified wasn’t  faced with the challenge of a structural deficit. But based on overwhelming evidence, forensic reviews of our District finances, and confirmation by numerous independent fiscal experts, we must face the fact that Sac City Unified does indeed have a serious structural deficit and we have to raise while considering this action.

We’ve heard from individuals who state that our district does not have a fiscal challenge, that there is a way to balance our budget into the future without any cuts to student programs or changes to contractual language.

As superintendent, I cannot in good conscience disregard our reality.  We do have a structural deficit; one that will grow wider once one-time funds expire due to the current loss of enrollment that CBO Rose described and reminded us again this evening.

The recommendation before you tonight, Board members, is for students with vaccination exemptions to undergo routine testing for COVID or to participate in Independent Study.  The option of Independent Study mirrors Governor Newsom’s description of the statewide vaccination mandate he announced last week.

Our Independent Study Program is already challenged under our current circumstances. A statewide staffing shortage has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and Sac City Unified, like most districts across the state, has been struggling to fill positions so we can meet current demand for Independent Study.  

State Education Code requires teachers to consent to an Independent Study assignment. While our District is steadily increasing the number of Independent Study teachers as some of our classroom teachers have volunteered to transfer to this program, this, in turn, means that we then have to address teacher vacancies in classroom teaching assignments. This is understandably upsetting to families of students participating in in-person instruction who are now losing teachers that they only recently met.

We must be prepared for a potential increase in demand for Independent Study when the District’s vaccine mandate takes effect, as well as an increase in the number of families expressing concern and dissatisfaction with the program as it is currently implemented.

Before the school year began, we developed an Independent Study program that we believed would meet the requirements of California’s new Independent Study law while maintaining a rigor that our students and families expect and deserve.  Our proposal would have provided a structured schedule for our Independent Study students with frequent interactions with their teacher.  

Unfortunately, we did not reach agreement with our labor partner on implementation of the Independent Study program we hoped to provide, which has left our Independent Study students receiving the bare minimum of instruction stipulated by statute. 

The challenges with our Independent Study program feed into my concerns about further enrollment decline at Sac City Unified. In this school year our student enrollment currently is 1,600 less than projected, which will lead to an ongoing budget shortfall of $18 million.  

With a vaccine mandate, we must brace ourselves for the potential of further attrition, which will make our district’s structural deficit worse. Families that refuse to get vaccinated may transfer to neighboring districts that do not yet have a vaccine mandate, and students may choose to pursue Independent Study in other districts that have been able to develop more robust remote learning opportunities.   

Due to Sac City Unified’s ongoing financial challenges, our District is unable to implement strategies that could help us mitigate these serious considerations.  Our budget structure doesn’t provide us the luxury of establishing a teaching pool that we could tap to meet the unanticipated demand for our Independent Study program or other initiatives that we would like to pursue. 

Again, I wish we were not facing this conundrum…and I will continue to strive with our Board to upend these long-standing challenges in Sac City…to continue on the path of what the Board has courageously done already in new board policies and adoption of new business practices.

If in the future we and others in our community look back at this moment and ask why we didn’t take steps to prevent the losses in enrollment, it’ll be because we took action to minimize the threat of COVID to our schools so that we could continue serving our students. 

As such, the commitment to consider this action by the Board is rightly focusing on the health of our students, our staff, and our community which currently has among the lowest vaccination rates in Sacramento County.

To be clear – and as you have now seen in our resolution, we are recommending that we implement a vaccination mandate in Sac City Unified. It is the most effective means to conquer this pandemic. 

We bring these considerations to your attention because we cannot disregard the District’s structural deficit and severe fiscal challenges that we must consider and would have to mitigate with ever more difficult choices. 

Should our Board approve this resolution, rest assured that, as the resolution currently states, I will advocate on behalf of actions to address the staffing, resource and budget considerations that come with implementing a vaccine mandate, and seek flexibility to improve our ability to effectively serve students.