In summary

The Santa Barbara school board unanimously has enacted a policy requiring vaccinations for all teachers and school staff, or weekly testing. Every school district in the state should do the same.

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By Kate Ford

Kate Ford is a trustee of the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education,

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Laura Capps, Special to CalMatters

Laura Capps is a trustee of the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education,

We believe that every school district in the state should require vaccinations for all teachers and school staff, or weekly testing. We hope the state moves quickly to make the same vaccination requirement that it now has for health care workers.  

Over the next few weeks, millions of young California children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated will be heading into classrooms with unvaccinated school staff as the COVID-19 Delta variant rages. This is not right.

As members of the Santa Barbara Unified School District board, we took an oath to do everything possible to protect our students and school staff.  So, in the face of this daunting reality, we took bold action: The board unanimously enacted a vaccination policy that the two of us brought forward.   

Our students, teachers and staff deserve healthy and safe schools. Sadly, our state is still in a health emergency that requires us to further safeguard students and staff against the risks of infection, illness, hospitalization and death from the virus. We are determined to open schools safely in our district for all staff and students on Aug. 17. 

It is our responsibility to do all that we can to prevent COVID-19 infections in our schools while keeping our classroom doors open and providing an environment where all children can thrive — especially the most vulnerable — and where our staff can be protected from disease.  

Since January of last year, at least 1 in 10 Californians have been infected, and at least 1 in 652 have died. As elected officials, we must do our part to do whatever we can to reduce these disturbing numbers.  

And, as history demonstrates, we know we can do it.

Polio was once the most feared disease in the United States, causing 15,000 cases of paralysis and disabling 35,000 people each year. It was eradicated not by herd immunity but by a successful vaccination mandate.  

We are alarmed at the high percentage of unvaccinated people in our state, despite the efforts of so many. Many districts like ours have worked hard to provide students and staff access to vaccinations by hosting vaccination clinics and providing transportation to other clinics.

Yet we learned recently that only 63% of SBUSD teachers and staff are vaccinated, confirmed either by self-reporting or by them confidentially showing a proof-of-vaccination card to our nurses. That percentage is far from where we should be — especially for staff members who are interacting with young children who can’t yet be vaccinated because the vaccine has not been approved for use in young children. 

Full vaccination provides the safety our schools need.

While all of the measures our district is taking — air ventilation, masking, distancing and testing — are critical, vaccinations are now the strongest tool we have to keep COVID-19 out of schools.

Requiring staff to either be vaccinated or tested weekly isn’t a step we wanted to take, but given the dismaying low percentage of vaccination rates, we must. Our kids have lost too much already; we owe it to them and our dedicated school employees across California to beat back this pandemic.  

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