School board tables decision on extracurricular vaccine mandates

With+82%25+of+students+in+the+district+vaccinated%2C+the+proposal+to+mandate+vaccines+for+extracurricular+activities+aims+to+bolster+COVID-19+mitigation+in+schools.

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With 82% of students in the district vaccinated, the proposal to mandate vaccines for extracurricular activities aims to bolster COVID-19 mitigation in schools.

Elise Spenner, Copy Editor

At the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday night, the trustees delayed voting on a proposed vaccination requirement for students participating in extracurricular activities outside of normal school hours. This proposal comes on the heels of a unanimous vote by the Los Angeles Unified School District that required vaccinations for all eligible students and an announcement from the Biden administration of broad vaccine mandates that could affect up to 100 million Americans. At the upcoming Sept. 23 meeting, the Board will reconsider an updated vaccine policy that refines plans for implementation and enforcement. 

Despite holding off on a vote, three Board members — Greg Land, Ligia Andrade Zúñiga and Peter Hanley — approved of the substantive content of the proposal. While Land was skeptical about the district’s ability to provide vaccination opportunities, he eventually supported the policy.

“For me, it is really about the collective good and helping and taking care of our students,” Land said at the meeting. “In this way, I think it’s important to have the vaccination protocol for all our students.” 

Trustees Zúñiga and Hanley were in agreement, demanding the utmost protection for students in the district. 

“This is not a new concept,” Hanley said. “I can hardly wait until we can mandate vaccines for all of our students. But this is not a mandate. This is a choice. People can choose not to get vaccinated and not to participate in extracurricular activities.”

However, both Trustees Griffin and Dwyer questioned whether vaccinations for a small body of students would produce the desired outcome — much lower rates of COVID-19 infection. Dwyer emphasized the conflict between requiring participants in activities to be vaccinated but not spectators or other students in the district. 

“If you take away the ability for a kid to play because he’s not vaccinated, he can go sit in the stands, not be vaccinated and get exposed to more than if he was on the team,” Dwyer said. 

The fast-approaching Sept. 20 deadline for first vaccination and the requirement’s disproportionate impact on students of color led Trustee Land to engineer a compromise. Convinced that the requirement would be effective with a mid-October deadline, he got the other trustees on board with reconsidering an updated policy at the next meeting. 

“We don’t have a very adequate answer on how to provide it to students that are struggling,” Land said. “We need to have [vaccines] readily available. If we can’t do that — that’s where we have to slow down.” 

Currently, 82% of students and 98% of staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as stated in a presentation by Superintendent Skelly. According to the data provided by the district, 28 students and two teachers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the school year. Of those 30 individuals — 0.4% of the district population — 17 were unvaccinated and 13 were vaccinated at the time of infection. 

Mainly, the district administration emphasized that participation in extracurricular activities — clubs, sports or performing arts — is a privilege dependent on behavior, not a right unequivocally granted to all students. 

Passionate public comment followed, with many questioning the long-term effects of the vaccines, arguing that the proposal’s infringed on liberties and freedoms and accusing the district of unconstitutional discrimination against unvaccinated students.

Some speakers opposed the extracurricular vaccine mandate for targeting the wrong students. Rather than focusing on athletes, actors and debaters doing what they love, it would be more beneficial for the district to mandate vaccinations for all students. 

“The idea that our students can sit in our packed classes, in questionably filtered air, within 6 feet of each other or closer, rarely moving for 90 minutes or more, yet not be able to run around a court, or a stage or be outside on a field is so hypocritical that it hurts,” Victoria Daniels, a parent of a student in the district and a teacher at Aragon, said.

The Board will weigh these concerns and questions at their next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 23, which can be watched live over Zoom or on YouTube.