Oakland, Piedmont Unified School Boards Approve Vaccine Mandate for Students

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The Oakland Unified School District and Piedmont Unified School District will both require students ages 12 and up to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Oakland Unified School District board voted late Wednesday night to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for its students ages 12 and up, according to a district release.

The measure was passed in a 5-1 vote.

Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and her team will work out the logistics of how and when the requirement will take effect, but Johnson-Trammell indicated the when would be no earlier than Jan. 1 so as not to disrupt the fall semester and to give students time to get the vaccine, the district said.

The district is expected to present a plan to the school board by next month.

All exemptions required by law and a "personal belief exemption" will be included in the plan, according to the board's resolution.

The most unique perspectives on the mandate came from the student members of the school board -- some voiced their support, and others worry it might be too strict. 

"Particularly considering that parents and guardians have the ultimate decision-making power whether or not to receive the vaccine,” said Samantha Pal, student board director.

This leaves the student in an uncomfortable intersection if they themselves want the vaccine and their parents or guardians do not. 

Among the other concerns is when students and staff would have to comply.

The district hopes eligible students will use their Thanksgiving and winter breaks to get vaccinated. The district is also hosting two community meetings next week to help answer questions from unvaccinated families who are still on the fence.

Adopting a vaccine mandate in public schools is still controversial. Only Oakland, Piedmont and Los Angeles public schools have done it so far in California.

According to Piedmont Unified's vaccine mandate that passed Wednesday night, eligible students have until Nov. 17 to get fully vaccinated. Any student who does not get vaccinated by the deadline will be excluded from in-person classes and will have to resort to independent study, which means virtual learning. Only students with a medical reason who present a doctor’s note will be exempt from the vaccine rule.

Berkeley Unified and West Contra Costa Unified proposals are still under consideration.

It's an issue that's garnering lots of attention from parent groups and community organizers, with one group in Oakland holding a news conference as the school board meeting started.

“We have to have mandatory vaccines in order to make sure that the schools are safe,” said Mark Airgood.

During Wednesday's meeting, every opportunity for public comment was dominated by parents and students wanting to voice their perspective on mandatory shots.

“We have the opportunity to prevent and to stop further spread of this disease, and we have to give our kids that opportunity,” said Ismael Almendares.

"I am opposed to vaccine mandates,” said parent Sean Wong. “Vaccine mandates will not get rid of COVID-19 in the schools. Vaccinated and unvaccinated can both get infected and transmit."

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