The plan in Oakland, which serves about 50,000 students, will require all students age 12 and older to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they are granted medical or “personal belief” exemptions.
The resolution does not specify a timeline or say how students’ vaccination status will be tracked. It requires OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell to “develop recommendations for enforcement of this vaccine requirement” and report them to the board by October.
Sam Davis, the school board vice president who introduced the vaccine resolution, cited district data showing that 40% of the positive cases have involved students in middle and high schools, who are old enough to be vaccinated.
"We know that if more students were vaccinated, those numbers would go down really sharply," he said. "That's what's creating the urgency around this."
There is no data on how many students are already vaccinated in Oakland Unified, but in the city of Oakland, 54% of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated, and 71% have received at least one dose, according to data cited in the school board’s proposal.
Davis says the district’s efforts to reach more high school students, including mobile vaccine clinics and free donuts, simply aren’t getting enough traction.
He says he sees the resolution as a starting point. "It just feels like this is an urgent conversation that we need to have,” he said. "And I know it's a hard conversation, but I don't want to shy away from it."
Vocal critics of the vaccine mandate — including the school board president, Shanthi Gonzales — say the plan could easily backfire, exposing the district to major litigation and driving a significant number of students out of the classroom.
"It will push more students to distance learning, where we don’t have space for more students," she said in a statement. "Or worse, to charters or other districts."
School board member Mike Hutchinson, who also opposes the new requirement, says any such mandate should come from the state.
"We're talking about potentially thousands of students being told that you can't attend school until you get this vaccination," said Hutchinson. "That makes me nervous that some families will respond by not attending school."
Some education officials also have questioned the legality of mandating the coronavirus vaccine for students under 16 while it's still under emergency use authorization. Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been granted full FDA authorization, and only for those 16 and older.
California currently requires public school staff to either be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing starting Oct. 15, but there is no similar statewide rule regarding students.
Asked at a Thursday media briefing if the state is considering requiring eligible schoolchildren to be vaccinated to attend in-person classes, Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said there is “no definitive action or decision” right now. But he left open the possibility of such a mandate, noting that students have long been required to receive vaccinations against other viruses — including polio, hepatitis B, measles and diphtheria — to attend school in person.