Oakland schools' student COVID vaccine mandate could be in place by January

The Oakland Unified School District Board of Education voted early Thursday to require all students ages 12 and up to be fully vaccinated if they intend to come to class.

The board is allowing exemptions for personal beliefs, though the district still needs to define exactly what those beliefs will entail.

Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell is expected to present details of the plan sometime in October, with the plan taking effect in January at the earliest.

"At the moment there are no parameters set as to what it's going to look like, how it is going to be in effect. How it will be enforced. That is something the staff here at OUSD will have to work out," said OUSD Spokesman John Sasaki.

"Vaccine is the way to herd immunity. We felt it was urgent to take this step," said school board Vice-President Sam Davis.

Davis, who introduced the resolution, says the district will need to launch an education campaign about the vaccine.  

But while Alameda County has a fully vaccinated rate of 77%, African Americans and Latinos have only about a 60% vaccination rate.

Such numbers could mean a racial divide between students who would come to class and those who would be learning remotely.

"We don't want this to be punitive. We want to use this as a way to encourage families to get the education they need, seek a doctor's advice to get what they need to get vaccinated," said Davis.

At Oakland Technical High School, the plan to make COVID vaccines mandatory for students to be allowed in class is drawing mixed reviews among the students themselves.

"It protects all of us. And I think it is just safer for us so it won't spread," said student Omar Staples.

"We should be able to choose if we want to get vaccinated or not. It's kind of forcing people to get vaccinated," said 11th grader Jordan Brown.

The district is planning to hold two community meetings about the mandate, in Spanish on Monday. The other is in English on Tuesday. The meetings will be virtual.

The nearby Piedmont Unified School District voted on Wednesday to mandate that eligible students get their vaccinations completed by Nov. 17.