The Culver City Unified School District (CCUSD) announced earlier this week that COVID-19 vaccination will be required for all students 12 and up by November 19th of this year, becoming the first school district in the nation to require such a mandate for children.
The CCUSD, a school district of over 7,000 students spread across five elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school bordered with Baldwin Hills and Los Angeles, noted specifically that the vaccine deadline was three months away to give students ample time to receive vaccines, especially two-shot vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna that can take over a month to fully receive.
“We are mandating vaccines for all eligible staff and students,” said CCUSD Superintendent Quoc Tran in the letter to district families. “We will begin gathering vaccine status data immediately. The deadline for providing the proof of vaccine is Friday, November 19, 2021, to give everyone the opportunity to make their vaccine plans.” Superintendent Tran was hired by the District August 9, 2021.
Mask wearing and weekly COVID-19 testing for all students and staff will also take place for the foreseeable future, regardless of vaccination statues
“We are working on the best manner of administering these tests and we will communicate that information as soon as possible,” added Tran. “Our health service team will continue to provide onsite testing when required due to Covid exposures or symptoms.”
Parents in Culver City have been polarized about the new vaccination mandate. While many have been in favor of the vaccines due to children being more susceptible to the new COVID-19 delta variant, others have remained strongly opposed to the mandate due to health concerns and general distrust of the vaccines themselves.
“The [CCUSD] is trying to say that they are getting a lot of support for this idea, but they obviously have not spoken to families about this,” explained Cailie Shaw, a student health coordinator in Southern California who has been helping tack under-18 vaccinations. “Culver City is obviously trying to make a statement as well as trying to protect students, but a lot of parents don’t want to be part of a statement. They want to have an honest conversation about vaccines with their kids. In many situations, parents have even been asking them on what they want, especially for high school students turning 18 who can legally choose for themselves.
“And that gets muddled by parents pushing for total vaccinations and parents refusing the vaccine outright. Most are stuck in the middle. They see the good of vaccinations, but they also don’t want it forced. They want to make the decision what is best for their kids, and to be honest, a good majority are getting them vaccinated anyway. But Culver is just giving no choice now, and that’s angering many.”
Unanswered questions over exemptions, vaccination refusals
Complicating the issue is the school district not saying whether or not medical or religious exemptions will be allowed or what the district will do with students and staff who refuse to vaccinate.
“We’re still working out how that’s all going to go,” noted a CCUSD spokesperson on Thursday.
Shaw also added “If they allow exceptions like that, a lot, not all, of the anger would be quelled. If they don’t give a way out, there’s no telling how parents will react. If you expel a student because of this, that lawsuit will be going to the highest courts quickly, and school districts don’t want that.”
Legally, law experts remain unsure of the legality of such an order, but agreed with Shaw that if the mandate is challenged over an expulsion, it would move up in the courts.
“There’s not a lot of precedence here,” explained lawyer Anthony Molina to the Globe on Friday. “I could see it going either way in court. But we need to know the fuller picture first, because a lot hinges on if any exemptions are made. If the city doesn’t allow religious or medical exemptions, well, we are off the bat looking at first amendment violations as well as a host of others. Same with the punishment. If teachers are fired or students expelled over this, especially if there are no exemptions, the uglier it will be.”
“We need to see what the district says about those first.”
Throughout California, all teachers and school staff need to be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19 by October 15th. Washington State passed a similar law for implementation by October 18th, but with the added caveat that all school workers who refuse to vaccinate and don’t have a medical or religious exemption would be fired instead of being tested weekly like in California.
“This is unchartered territory right now,” continued Shaw. “This is why everyone is treading lightly and seeing what everyone else is doing first and why Culver didn’t give a lot of specifics so far.”