The Sacramento City Unified School District will require all eligible students and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 30, barring medical and religious exemptions — a requirement that comes seven months before California’s July 2022 mandate.
Thousands of students and adults gathered at the Capitol Monday for a one-day protest of the state mandate, an action mirrored throughout the state. Attendance was down at school districts neighboring SCUSD; at Placerville Union School District, it fell by 25% and, at Oroville Union High School District, by 40%, EdSource found.
Jorge Aguilar, the Sacramento City Unified School District superintendent, said that his district generally didn’t see a similar impact. He appeared on CapRadio’s Insight to answer questions about the vaccine mandate.
“I think that the board made, of course, a very bold stand to protect public health,” he said. “The vaccine requirement is a path forward to keeping our schools open and increasing community, given the long-standing effects that this pandemic has now had on a very vulnerable population of students.”
He said multiple factors led the SCUSD board to pass a vaccine mandate. Of those, the superintendent cited last month’s near-closure of New Joseph Bonnheim Elementary after 7.8% of the school population tested positive and Sacramento’s lower vaccination, higher transmission rates overall.
Sacramento County is at “very high risk” for unvaccinated people, with an average of 17 daily cases per 100,000 people reported in the past two weeks.
Aguilar spoke with Insight host Vicki Gonzalez to clarify the process of submitting proof of vaccination, requirements for those who believe they should be exempt and how things could change in the district after Nov. 30.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On the process of submitting proof of vaccination
We’ve already started the process of administering a process by which our staff proof is being reviewed, we've hired about 275 additional staff that are doing this kind of work: COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, health screening, data entry, data integrity. We will be announcing what the centralized process is going to look like over the next couple of weeks.
But it'll be similar to what we've had to do, for example, we upload vaccination card proof… It will be recorded in Infinite Campus, which is our student information system. We have an immunization record history of immunizations for families, it'll be very similar to that.
On clarifying the vaccine mandate’s limits and exemptions
It's a vaccination mandate, of course, and we are very firm about it. But at the moment, there are still some exemptions available to families that wish not to provide proof of a vaccination for their child. So long as those exemptions exist, it is a requirement then that you would undergo routine medical testing for COVID-19. It isn't vaccination or nothing. It's vaccination, or an exemption that's filed with the district before we have to then enroll a student in independent study.
It’s by [Nov. 30] that you have to submit proof of the first dose of the vaccination. Then there’s deadlines beyond that, as well as giving 30 days to students once they become eligible, say at age 12. And then eight weeks after that, the second proof of the second dose. But if you choose not to get vaccinated, there will be a centralized process in which you will submit an exemption request. And at that point, we will make sure that those students, those staff members are undergoing routine COVID-19 testing.
I'm not in a position right now to say what the cadence of that testing would look like ... that will be done in consultation with our partners at Sac County Public Health and others, it will be determined by positivity rates throughout the region, positivity rates at that particular school site.
On lack of full FDA authorization of vaccines for eligible kids by November 30
The [vaccine requirement] resolution ... is pretty specific in terms of the timelines. But it also provides for some level of discretion and some level of flexibility in the timelines and deadlines, depending on our ability to access testing, our ability to partner for vaccinations, and any kind of changing conditions that might occur between now and then one thing that I a superintendent have realized over the last 18 months or so is, with a pandemic, there's so many changing conditions that are ever changing.
Let me give you an example where we're hearing of the potential authorization, under emergency use, for 5- to 11-year-olds. The resolution language allows for some discretion to look at the conditions to determine whether we will implement that part of the vaccination requirement by November 30. Or whether we might extend that particular deadline, but the resolution is very clear that the board expects that we will move forward with a vaccination requirement under that type of emergency use.
On masking requirements after the SCUSD vaccine requirement takes effect
CDPH just announced the revision to this mandate, and they are extending the mask mandate until further notice. Our board took again a very firm and bold stance in that we are requiring masks both indoor and outdoors. We do have opportunities for students to take mask breaks, and we've designated areas for that.
On how the mandate could affect students in independent studies
The reality is that there were a lot of factors that came into being at a time where it made it very difficult for us to be fully prepared for the number of families that might become interested (in independent studies), as we were opening our school year.
We heard it in public comment, for example, the night that the board took action on this vaccination mandate, that many families might consider bringing back their students to in-person instruction — they’ve enrolled their child in independent study because there was no vaccination mandate, or because of the low vaccination rates in our community. I'm very, very hopeful that will be a result of this vaccination mandate related to independent study. I want to make sure that our parents feel comfortable and confident that our health and safety protocols have kept our students safe and healthy.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar. We regret the error.