Marie-Elena Schembri Writer, Photographer & Visual Artist Marie-Elena Schembri Writer, Photographer & Visual Artist

Covid in Schools Series- Calaveras Unified School District

Second Place Winner, 2021 California Journalism Awards, Coverage of Youth and Education

CUSD becomes second Calaveras County school district to defy vaccine mandate

Marie-Elena Schembri, Calaveras Enterprise, November 18, 2021

At a Calaveras Unified School District (CUSD) board meeting Tuesday night, the board voted 5-0 against upholding the state-issued COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students and staff.

The five board members voted on an action put forth by board member Bryan Porath to “not enforce, support, or comply” with the mandate, which requires all students and school staff to be vaccinated by July of next year, following FDA approval of the vaccine for the child’s specific age group.

This decision follows after the Mark Twain Union Elementary School District became the first in the county to vote against enforcing the mandate last week.

Some school districts throughout the state have similarly expressed concerns or pledged not to uphold the mandate, including districts in Apple Valley and Happy Valley, with one school board member in Temecula Valley resigning to avoid getting vaccinated, though it is undetermined whether the state rules apply to school board members.

While the CUSD board’s decision was unanimous regarding the mandate for children to be vaccinated, discussions over whether the same rules should apply to teachers and school staff presented differing opinions.

A theme of solidarity and mutual support was echoed throughout comments from concerned parents, teachers, and school board trustees. Two fourth grade students from Valley Springs Elementary also rose to the podium, to ask the board to consider their feelings about the mandate.

Fourth grader Liz Montgomery got chuckles from the packed room when she said, “I don’t want to be homeschooled. My mom already homeschooled me last year, and it was not the best.”

While most of the commenters were against the mandate, some in attendance were for the mandate, like one Zoom commenter who said that “science tells us we’re all more vulnerable without the shot.”

Another parent, however, asked the board to “take the science out of it,” saying, “We are in America, the greatest country in the world, based on our right to choose.”

Staff members including teachers voiced opinions about their rights, asking the board to consider allowing unvaccinated staff to opt for weekly saliva tests over nasal swabs, without requiring medical exemptions as is currently the rule.

Others asked that the board revisit the prior decision to require kids to wear masks in school, with parents calling out “let my kid breathe” and “let’s bring those smiles back.”

One commenter from the audience told the board, “I am so proud of you guys. I am so proud to be in Calaveras County, and I am so proud that we are united. I’m so proud. I know It takes a lot of courage to take a stand like this. I’m so proud of each one of you, and I’m so proud of all of us. … We’re gonna have your back.” Applause and a shout of “we got your back” echoed the sentiment throughout the room.

Prior to voting, Superintendent Mark Campbell advised the board that based on liability and the risks associated with going against the state-issued mandate—including “fall back from unions” and OSHA, state and local public health orders, and potentially losing Covid-related funding—he would recommend that the district remain in compliance with the state’s rules. Campbell advised that the district “stand(s) to lose students and staff on either end.”

While the board made a decision against supporting and enforcing the vaccine mandate for its students and staff, they asked that other issues brought up, like the mask mandate and saliva testing, be agenized for future meetings.

Board members also asked people to remember that there are community members in favor of the mandate, and to be compassionate towards them and not “lose sight of the fact that we all have to live together.”

Board member Cory Williams said, “I hate that it divides people. I hate that it divides family and friends in our community. Obviously, we feel with the majority, but we do need to have compassion for others.”

Presently, it is unclear what the ramifications might be for school districts that defy the state’s vaccine mandate.

Board member Bryan Porath made a statement regarding potential legal repercussions, as advised by Superintendent Campbell, stating that “there is no precedence for any of this,” and “we don’t have insurance for this anyway,” to which Campbell replied, “nobody is covered for Covid-related cases, but if you don’t have a vaccine mandate in place, you do open up...for potentially more litigation.”