Santa Barbara Unified School Board Votes to Require All Employees to be Vaccinated Against COVID, Without Option for Testing

Camie Barnwell

Dear Santa Barbara Unified students, families and staff.

At a special board meeting on Thursday, September 23, 2021, the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously to require all district employees to be vaccinated against COVID. The board voted to amend an earlier version of Resolution No. 2021/2022-09, removing the section that had allowed for the option of testing instead of vaccination.

The policy calls for all employees to provide proof of vaccination. All unvaccinated employees must receive their first vaccination shot prior to October 1, 2021, and the second vaccination, if applicable, no later than November 1, 2021. Currently, about 88% of the district’s 1,673 regular staff are already vaccinated. Medical and religious exemptions will be considered.

The new policy is the first of its kind for any public, K-12 school district in Santa Barbara County. The Resolution states that “overwhelming scientific evidence has established that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and have been authorized for use by the FDA and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) … The overwhelming majority of infections are currently occurring in individuals who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. There exists a health emergency that requires further action to safeguard students and staff against risks of infection, illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. The Board has a responsibility to prevent the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 infections at SBUSD sites.”

Superintendent Hilda Maldonado voiced her support of the resolution, citing mounting concerns over the more highly contagious Delta Variant and its potential threat to children who are unable to be vaccinated. “As public education leaders, our unwavering responsibility is to the health and safety of children and staff. The availability of a vaccine that combats the virus - along with all other mitigation layers we have in place - will provide us with the highest protection available. For those who continue to hesitate or have doubts about being vaccinated, we are here to listen. We can provide counseling, we can provide one-to-one sessions so that you can learn more about the safety of the vaccine. We can help you through the process if you’re afraid of getting vaccinated. I understand how difficult this decision is for some.”

The School Board heard more than 70 public comments before coming to their unanimous vote of approval.

School Board President Kate Ford said she supports the policy, because “her heart and the data tells me that we must do more, and because it is my job as a school board member to do everything I can to ensure that the students and staff of our district are kept as safe as possible. The resolution is not a violation of a god given freedom; it IS a decision in the interest of the greater good. After all, that is why we now wear seatbelts, don’t smoke in public places, abide by speed limits, AND require numerous vaccinations in order for children to attend our schools. The greater good. And, I would never forgive myself if it ever happens that I could have done more to save any staff member or student from suffering or death. It’s not the easy thing, but it is the right thing to do.”

Board member Virginia Alvarez said the decision demonstrates “the collective responsibility that we have to protect one another.  Students belong at school in the safest learning environment as possible, and my duty as a Trustee is not to be popular, but to do what is within my power to protect our students, staff and community.”

Board member Wendy Sims-Moten said “This is about the health & safety of our students, and it’s about not going back to the not-too-distant past of distance learning where there was a lot of suffering, issues with mental health. We read all of those emails pleading to get students back to in-person learning. Now that we’re here, we need to do everything we can to maintain that.”

Board member Rose Muñoz said that she took many perspectives into consideration, and felt that required vaccinations help to protect the most vulnerable children in the district, and those who suffered most under the distance learning in place last year; “Our students have the right to in-person learning in a safe setting.”

Board member Laura Capps added that “This vaccine policy is not about our rights as individuals but our collective rights as people, and our need to care for one another-- our students, our parents, our colleagues, our community.  As a mom, I am a fierce advocate for our children and too many of them, especially those who are too young to be vaccinated, are being exposed to this virus with unknown long term effects and bringing it home to the people they love.”

Student Board Member Dawson Kelly also supports the new policy. “My Job is to advocate for the safety of my constituents, the almost 13,000 students of Santa Barbara Unified. After reading through the resolution multiple times and speaking with students I represent, I do believe that this resolution is backed up with enough scientific evidence and data that supports the safety of the staff affected. I hope that despite differing views within the public, we can all reach compromises in order to achieve unity.”

Joyce Adriansen, President of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association, said prior to Thursday’s meeting, she conducted a survey of teachers on the Resolution, and that of those who responded, about 78% said they were in support. Adriansen said that on a personal note, she applauded the board for “Doing everything you can to keep our students safe and in school.”

The Resolution received letters of support from other local leaders and medical experts, including the following: