Oakland Unified adopts student vaccine mandate

The Oakland Unified School District will now require vaccines for its students, following Los Angeles' lead and making it the first in Northern California to impose a student mandate.

The measure, passed 5-1, just after midnight on Thursday. 

Voting no were director Mike Hutchinson and student director Natalie Gallegos-Chavez. Both voiced concerns about the timeline, implementation, potential legal challenges, and unvaccinated students being denied an education if the proposed mandate passed.

"There needs to be information spread to our students about how the COVID vaccine works," said Gallegos-Chavez.

President Shanthi Gonzalez abstained.

The vaccine mandate, proposed by board members Sam Davis, Gary Yee and Cliff Thompson, mandates all students 12 and older be fully vaccinated, with exemptions for medical and "personal belief" reasons. It does not set a timeline for enforcement. 

Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said she agreed with the concerns on both sides of the issue and said the importance is to increase outreach and would not recommend implementation before January, when the Los Angeles school district plans to implement a student COVID vaccine mandate.

Vaccine mandates for children have become an ongoing debate, as students return to school this year and the numbers of COVID-19 cases increase.

The vote drew a divided response. 

"Adding this vaccine as a requirement would be premature and unscientific. It would not be waiting for the data," said one man named George during the public comment session.

But Mark Airgood, a middle school teacher said: "There's many vaccines that children have to get to enter school and if parents are not willing to get COVID-19 vaccines for their children then they need to find another plan to educate them."

At a local soccer field, some parents said they support education and vaccination campaigns but not a mandate. Others say they support a mandate.

"My son is vaccinated. He's had both his doses. It makes life a lot easier for everyone if all the kids are vaccinated," said parent Stephen Cole. 

"As a teacher I would love it because I think it would make it a little safer in the classroom," said Mary Daisy Fong, an Oakland Tech high school math teacher, "I don't think the mask thing is as reliable I mean the kids go outside at lunch, off come the masks, they're eating their food. I mean they're kids. RIght? So vaccine I know is for sure, the masking is on and off."

Some parents said the board should go beyond mandates for students and include teachers as well.

"It is hypocritical and irresponsible to impose a vaccine mandate on our children while not mandating that our staff and teachers are vaccinated," said Liz Deluca, an OUSD parent.

The district staff will prepare plans for the implementation of the vaccine mandate and present them to the board at a future meeting.

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, some concerned families and teachers in Oakland plan to rally for safer schools at 73rd and International. 

Organizers and teachers union members say they are doing this because they feel the district has poorly managed COVID testing.

There has been confusion, such as false positive test results and some classes had to quarantine.

The Oakland Education Association said district officials also won’t begin bargaining.

Oakland isn't the only one talking about vaccine mandates. 

The West Contra Costa Unified school board had planned to vote on a student mandate Tuesday, but the district’s superintendent canceled that meeting, citing the need to further work out specifics.

Berkeley Unified’s board was discussing a draft of its limited vaccine on Wednesday, but took no action. 

And on Wednesday not, Piedmont unanimously approved a vaccine requirement for eligible students, and, students who are not vaccinated may possibly be banned from in-person classes.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at jana.katsuyama@fox.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.