In an abrupt move Thursday afternoon, the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education voted 5-0 to require teachers and staff to get vaccinated by the beginning of the school year, or get tested for COVID-19 weekly.
In addition, the resolution passed by the board stated that all Santa Barbara Unified “students will be regularly tested to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” regardless of vaccination status.
This detail was not mentioned in a widely circulated media letter on Tuesday leading up to the meeting.
There was no staff report included as part of the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, so it is unclear how students will be tested, how often, and whether they will be tested at school or some other format.
There are about 14,000 students in the district, which includes transitional kindergarten through 12th grade.
The resolution also recommends eligible students (12 years old and older) and family members to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before school starts on Aug. 17.
“The goal today was to review, discuss, modify and approve the resolution itself, and, in effect, pass the baton to district staff for implementation,” said board president Kate Ford after the meeting. “I expect a tentative plan reported to the board soon.”
Nearly four dozen people spoke at the meeting, which was held via video conferencing, but it was clear from the outset the board members had made up their minds on vaccinations prior to the meeting.
“Yes, COVID is real,” said speaker Justin Shores. “Yes, vaccines help. But do you have to force it on all of your staff, all of your students? Does this have to happen? This is forcing vaccines on people.”
Several of the speakers protested the idea of forcing kids, some of them who already suffer from anxiety, to take COVID-19 tests.
Board members Ford and Laura Capps trumpeted the proposal, sending out an opinion column to local media on Tuesday.
“This is about the health and safety of students,” Capps said. “That is the oath I took in 2016 when I joined this board. That is the first, paramount responsibility among many other responsibilities that we have as school board members.”
She said students in Santa Barbara and across the country have suffered the most with learning loss.
“This is also about the health and safety of all staff,” Capps said. “I have such respect for the 2,000 or so employees in this district who choose to have jobs and careers where they are helping children. They choose that. But that is their choice. And they are going to, in the next several days, are going to be around thousands of unvaccinated kids who cannot get a vaccine.”
She said that it’s time to prevent the spread of the virus, just like science has done with the polio virus. She said vaccines work.
“They are proving to be extremely effective, even in the face of a new variant, they still keep us from being hospitalized,” Capps said. “It is still true that this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
UC Santa Barbara and the California State University system have mandated COVID-19 vaccination for faculty, staff, and students on campuses for the 2021-22 school year that will start soon.
Santa Barbara City College’s Board of Education met Thursday and voted for a similar mandate, for students, faculty, staff, and other visitors to campus to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1