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Gov. Newsom requires vaccinations or testing for all California school workers

Newsom announced Wednesday that teachers and other school employees must get vaccinated or go through regular COVID testing.

CALIFORNIA, USA — Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a statewide policy Wednesday requiring all school teachers and school employees in the state to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or submit to weekly testing.

"We think this is the right thing to do and we think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open and to address the number one anxiety that parents like myself have -- I have four young children -- and that is knowing that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe, to keep our kids healthy, and that is what we're doing here in the state of California," Newsom said during a visit to a school in Oakland.

The policy mirrors one announced this week by the Long Beach Unified School District, which will begin fall classes at the end of August. School districts in San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento also have similar requirements in place.

But not all San Diego County teachers are on board.

“I don't think that a mandate for teachers is really the best decision. I think it's really a sad decision to make because teachers really should be given the choice,” said Nicole Rieck of the Vista Unified School District, who's taught first grade for 10 years.

Rieck said classrooms are already safe with proper ventilation, strict health protocols and increased hand washing.

"I feel safe in my classroom, and I feel that families should feel safe in the classroom regardless of a teachers vaccination status. We were in person from October 2020 at five days a week with full classes,  and my school is one of the largest in the district, and we had only eight cases total throughout the whole school year,” Rieck said.

Dr. Tom Leete who teaches AP Biology at Eastlake High School supports the governor's requirement.

"I understand people can make up their minds and make their own decisions, but this is truly a public health issue, Leete said.

Leete’s class in the Sweetwater School District has already been in session for weeks, and he said masking and hand washing are not enough.

"Clearly the steps we have taken so far have not stopped this pandemic, and in fact it is accelerating with a newly evolved delta variant, and we need to use every tool at our disposal, but it is taking everything we have at this point to prevent that, and our school nurses are working like crazy to contact trace every outbreak,” Leete said.

Gov. Newsom said the vaccination requirement will be enforced the same way that all the other rules are enforced for school employees.

"We have an Ed code, and there are progressive sanctions,” Newsom said.

Kisha Borden, President of the San Diego Education Association that represents teachers, nurses, school counselors, psychologists and support staff said largely San Diego school employees pushed for a staff vaccine mandate.

“We have been on board with it for quite some time, and we at SDEA believe that vaccinations and testing are layers of protection that we can provide for our students in our school community along with proper ventilation am asking,” Borden said.

Borden said many teachers would support a mandate for all students to be vaccinated.

“Say you were at a very large school, and all the adults are being tested or vaccinated, but then overwhelmingly, but then most of the people on campus, the students are not ,” Borden said.

Rieck said she needs more information before lending any support to a student mandate.

“My own kids are fully vaccinated, they are going to be attending public school, so they have to be, but I just feel like we need more information, and I have some concerns and I just feel like it is so new, we need more data and more information before parents can make an educated and informed decision,” Rieck said.

Leete said schools already have a list of mandatory vaccines before students can be in public schools, so the COVID vaccine would just be one more added.

Borden said one hang up is making sure schools can keep up with weekly testing since previously staff was able to be tested every other week.

"It is up to our district to really figure out capacity wise how are they going to now do this every week,” Borden said.

Newsom's statewide vaccine mandate for schools goes into effect starting Aug. 12 and all schools must be in full compliance by Oct. 15.

"Today we feel is a responsible step in the direction to continue to maintain that stewardship and that focus on getting to where we all want to go, and that's extinguishing this virus once and for all," Newsom said.

He again touted the state's higher-than-average vaccination rate -- 77.5% of all eligible residents receiving at least one dose -- but said, "It's not good enough. We have more work to do."

Newsom said he hopes the requirement "will begin a process of significantly increasing vaccination rates" statewide.

"We believe this will be well-received," he said. "Not everybody will be overwhelmed by this, but we think it will be well-received, because it's the right thing to do to keep our most precious resource healthy and safe, our children here in the state."

The vaccination-or-testing requirement already has the support of the powerful Service Employees International Union, which represents thousands of school workers across the state.

"We share Governor Newsom's commitment to increasing the rate of vaccination so we can better protect the students and families we serve from sickness and death, and prevent the virus from spreading to our own families and communities, and we support public health measures such as this which are designed to do so while giving workers a choice," said Max Arias, an executive board member of SEIU California. "Worker-led school safety protocols have created the model for safe school reopening, and many school workers have already created similar agreements."

Larry Elder, a conservative talk show host considered a leading candidate in the upcoming gubernatorial recall election, wrote on Twitter that he would reverse the order if he becomes governor.

"Encouraging vaccination is fine. Government mandating it is not," Elder wrote on Twitter, although Newsom's order would not be a vaccine mandate since workers have the option of weekly testing.

Fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox said, "Instead of more mandates, we should be giving parents greater choice when it comes to schools."

Newsom has come under some fire from some groups for another statewide school mandate -- mask-wearing. The Orange County Board of Education announced last week it will be taking legal action to challenge the requirement for all students and teachers to wear masks. A pair of parent groups have also filed a lawsuit in San Diego challenging the mandate.

The governor has brushed off criticism, saying last week: "We want to keep our kids safe."

"We want them back in person for in-person instruction," Newsom said. "We don't want our kids back on Zoom school. We don't want our kids back online with all the disparities that were self-evident in another classroom I was in when I asked them how their download speeds are. And the fact that a young child, in first-grade, is talking about download speeds suggests everything you need to know about the nature of the impact of this pandemic and how disproportionate it has been."

Newsom said he expects school districts across the state to follow all safety recommendations, which he said "are in line with the CDC and aligned with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which I'm more interested in their counsel and advice than, respectfully, those that are seeking to move in the direction of Florida and other states."

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