Now that anyone over age 16 can get a COVID-19 vaccine, will South Bay school districts require them for students returning to the classroom?
In California, state law requires that public school students receive vaccinations for certain transmissible diseases, including polio, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Hepatitis B and chickenpox. COVID-19 is not on that list.
Ensuring teachers are vaccinated and have plenty of options to receive their shot is in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the federal agency has not provided guidance for whether students should be vaccinated before returning to in-person instruction.
East Side Union High School District Superintendent Chris Funk, who writes a regular column for San José Spotlight, said there are no plans to require vaccines for students.
“School districts do not have direct access to vaccines,” Funk said. “At this time, as a district, we are not requiring vaccinations in order to return to school. I would expect Sacramento to make it part of Ed Code down the line.”
But one South Bay school district is working to vaccinate its high schoolers for COVID-19.
Morgan Hill Unified School District high school students are guaranteed COVID vaccines by this summer, thanks to the efforts of district leadership. The district has a total enrollment of approximately 9,000 K-12 students, and about 1,600 are ages 16 through 19.
“Even though 16- to 19-year-olds are not the most susceptible group to getting COVID or being adversely affected by transmission, they are a highly likely group in my opinion of transmitting the virus, of being carriers,” Superintendent Steve Betando said. “We have graduation coming up, and we know we can do some group graduations. And they’re going to be the ones gathering during the end of the year and during the summer.”
Students ages 16 to 19 can schedule appointments at a district clinic later this month, said Betando. The vaccine cache is possible through a partnership with Albertsons, and the clinic will take place over three days at one of the district’s high schools. Logistical plans for the clinic started last fall, when the promise of widespread vaccines was still a few months from reality.
Betando said the vaccines aren’t just limited to Morgan Hill high schoolers. The clinic will be open to any South Bay students. They can sign up via emails sent from school administrators.
Other South Bay school districts state they don’t have plans to hold vaccine clinics like Morgan Hill quite yet.
Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District Superintendent Michael Grove said there are “some very initial discussions at the county level” about setting up vaccine clinics for eligible students, but no concrete agreements so far.
“We do not anticipate requiring vaccines for students or staff as a condition for coming to school in the fall,” Grove said. “That would typically be a state-level decision as with all other vaccines.”‘
Officials from San Jose Unified School District, the city’s largest, did not respond to requests for comment.
In January, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District said publicly that he expected to require eligible students to get vaccinated before returning to the classroom.
According to the California Department of Education, parents or guardians of students in any school or childcare facility are not allowed to submit a personal beliefs exemption to the state’s required vaccines, per a 2016 Senate bill. However, the same law eliminated the requirement that students in home-based private schools or independent study programs get vaccinated.
California Department of Education representatives deferred questions about student vaccines to the California Department of Public Health. The department did not respond to a request for comment.