Napa County’s largest public school system has suspended an impending demand that its staff receive full vaccination against coronavirus by the end of March.
By freezing a mandate it had adopted last month, the board of directors of the Napa Valley Unified School District on Thursday voted unanimously to suspend a vaccination requirement that would have applied to about 1,674 employees as of March 31 on more than two dozen campuses on across Napa and the American Canyon. The suspension continues, “until further information is available and discussion can take place,” and no later than June 23, according to the proposal.
Prior to approving the January 20 board meeting, trustees and NVUSD executives had said the deadline was based on Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order in October, which prevented unvaccinated employees and students from entering campuses for personal learning. This order is expected to take effect on July 1, in time for the 2022-23 school year.
However, in an agenda released ahead of Thursday’s virtual board meeting, the Napa district stated that “there have been no recent actions or communications indicating that there will be a July 1 mandate from the state of California.”
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The language in Newsom’s order states that COVID-19 vaccines will be added to California’s existing list of required vaccinations – including shots against diseases such as rubella, mumps and measles – “when the vaccine receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for middle and high school classes. ”
The Napa school system was one of at least 40 other California school districts that passed labor or student vaccination mandates before July 1, when the more infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 triggered the largest infection increase since the pandemic’s arrival in the United States in 2020.
Within the district, positive tests among students peaked at 570 a week on January 17, although they dropped to 252 two weeks later. Infections among staff peaked at 48 a week on January 24 and dropped to 21 the following week.
NVUSD officials described last month that they were turning to substitute teachers and other district workers to fill in the gaps left in the classroom by as many as 85 teacher absences a day, and administrator David Gracia predicted that waiting until July to demand inoculation would hinder the district’s ability to staff itself fully. in the coming fall.
The first mandate of its kind in the United States, the California Vaccination Order – which applies to students and staff at public, private and charter schools from kindergarten to 12th grade – is set to take effect in the first semester after the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval of a coronavirus vaccine for each age group of children and adolescents.
The Napa Valley Unified School District joins about 40 other districts that have approved vaccine requirements for staff, students, or both ahead of the state’s July deadline.
In November, the United States extended the emergency approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by two shots in November for children as young as 5 years old, the age of many kindergartens.
Emergency FDA approval allows vaccines to be distributed for use while a longer, more detailed review continues. The two most widely used COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, came on the market under this scheme before gaining full federal approval for adults, the Pfizer version in August and the Moderna alternative on 31 January.
On Thursday night, all seven NVUSD trustees approved postponing the vaccine requirement without comment – but also with several opponents still urging the district to give up the mandate altogether.
“People must have the choice; there should be elections where there is risk, ”Sheri DeBow told trustees. “This is insane, and you’re forcing teachers with lifelong careers to choose to stop. I can not believe this is where we are in California, a state that was once free.”
“I’m sorry I could lose my job simply because of a third (booster) shot, for which there is not much science,” added one woman, identified only as “ma” at the Zoom teleconference, who said that she has been teaching in the Napa district for six years. “We need choices. I made a choice to teach students when no one else would in this crazy time, and now you remove my choice.”
So far, the only residence in the Bay Area is Santa Clara County, where county health officials claim that lifting local requirements for indoor masks would pose an unnecessary risk to residents who are vulnerable to the virus.
NVUSD’s policy would, if and when enforced, require workers to confirm their vaccination in one of three ways. Staff members can show a copy of their vaccination journal card, documentation from a health care provider, or a copy of a digital vaccination journal, provided by the state Department of Health, that includes a scannable QR code.
The mandate would also allow employees to write applications to be exempted for religious or medical reasons, and it states that the district can accommodate workers in ways that do not threaten other people’s health or “pose an unnecessary difficulty” to NVUSD’s finances or operations.
Those who receive exemptions will be required to receive regular COVID-19 tests at least once a week and possibly as often as every business day. Non-exempt workers who say no to the vaccine may be put on unpaid leave, dismissed or receive another result based on existing union agreements.
NVUSD has not announced plans to require students to receive the coronavirus vaccine in advance before a state mandate takes effect.
Earlier in the meeting, the NVUSD board approved a 30-day extension of the virtual meetings it has held since Napa County introduced its first shelter-at-home order in March 2020 early in the pandemic – but also announced that personal sessions could return next month. The district is working to reopen its boardroom at NVUSD’s Jefferson Street headquarters in Napa as early as the March 17 meeting in a hybrid of personal and online participation, Superintendent Rosanna Mucetti said. (A state law that went into effect on Oct. 1 allows government agencies to continue meeting online at least until the end of 2023, as long as they vote to do so monthly).
That opportunity was less than welcome to a speaker who warned of possible threats and disruption from vaccination enemies.
“These people are the ones who have posted your names online and posted some pretty nasty things,” Aisley Wallace Harper told the trustees. “Make sure you have some protection before you consider inviting a crowd of unvaccinated and rather unruly people,” she said.
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You can contact Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or [email protected]