She said she doesn’t think a requirement is necessary considering the district’s masking rules, contact tracing and testing sites.
Public health experts, however, say there’s no substitute for full vaccination.
“Testing is simply not as good as being vaccinated,” Gandhi said. “Your exposure could have been in between the two times of testing.”
Legal Obstacles to Requiring Teacher Vaccination
While many lawmakers, school district officials and teachers unions are all strongly urging school employees to get vaccinated, making it a requirement could open up legal challenges against the state and local districts because none of the COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Under the vaccines’ current status of “emergency use authorization,” a mandate could be susceptible to legal challenges from employees who refuse, according to Dorit Reiss, a law professor at UC Hasting College of the Law.
“We don’t have a lot of cases on this because we’re in a new situation,” said Reiss. “There’s never been a vaccine for the whole population under emergency use authorization.”
But so far, lawsuits related to vaccine mandates at schools and universities have been unsuccessful.
On Aug. 2, a panel of federal judges threw out a lawsuit filed by a group of students against Indiana University’s vaccine mandate. On July 27, a court dismissed a lawsuit against Los Angeles Unified and its requirement that teachers either be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
In fact, there’s already precedent for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in California public higher education. Both the University of California and the California State University systems are requiring faculty, staff and students to be fully vaccinated before they return to campus.
“I am one of thousands of UC and Cal State teaching faculty who are under a vaccine requirement as terms of our employment,” said Noymer, the UC Irvine public health professor. “So it doesn’t seem particularly oppressive to me to require K-12 teachers to vaccinate.”
But local district officials are reluctant to take that step before the vaccines receive full FDA approval. At the very least, district administrators and teachers unions alike want to negotiate what a vaccine mandate might entail.
“We’re certainly in conversation with our unions on how to encourage vaccinations,” said Richard Barrera, president of the San Diego Unified School Board. “It’s an evolving conversation.”
Upon FDA approval, Reiss says, the state could mandate vaccines, and teachers and their unions would have to comply without bargaining because the order isn’t coming from their employers.
Bacigalupi, the Oakland Unified parent and director of OpenSchoolsCA, said districts should absolutely mandate the vaccine once it gets full approval.
“It strikes people as contradictory that there are individuals who would oppose a vaccine mandate, but are completely fine with a mask mandate,” she said.
A Return to Distance Learning Unlikely
Public health experts and school district officials do agree that even without a vaccine mandate for school staff, the current spread of COVID-19 and the delta variant will probably not threaten school reopenings in the fall.
Gandhi said as long as schools enforce masking and routine testing, students should be safe on campus.
“Even despite not having any vaccines around, we’ve been able to keep schools open,” she said. “I think the data has shown us that we can reopen safely even during high community spread.”
Scott Borba, superintendent of Le Grand Union Elementary School District in Merced County, said close to 70% of his staff were vaccinated as of the spring. He said he won’t be requiring his staff to submit proof of vaccination. Besides the masking rule, he expects classrooms will feel relatively normal when students return on Aug. 11.
“I’m praying and hoping that we can start the year off normal,” Borba said. “It feels good to be doing education again after a year and a half of being a public health coordinator for my school.”
Ahumada, however, said she’ll pull her sons out of school and into distance learning if she sees too many positive cases among students or staff.