After hours of lively debate Thursday, the Santa Barbara Unified School District board voted unanimously to require COVID-19 vaccines for all its staff.
Board members removed a COVID-19 testing alternative for staff choosing not to be vaccinated. Santa Barbara Unified is the first district in Santa Barbara County to remove that option.
All employees must provide proof of their first shot by Oct. 1 and the second dose, if applicable, by Nov. 1. But the board can consider medical and religious exemptions for individuals.
About 88% of the district’s regular 1,673 staff are vaccinated, the district reported in a news release.
The board’s decision came after more than 70 residents, including the district’s teachers and other employees and students, told the board how they felt. Opponents and proponents were both passionate during the virtual session.
About two-thirds opposed the mandate, contending it was a violation of their rights. They also expressed concern about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness.
But others said the mandate is needed to protect students, especially those in the age 5-11 group. No vaccine has been approved yet for that age group.
The opponents’ and proponents’ comments were reported in detail in Friday’s News-Press. (See newspress.com/sb-unified-considers-vaccination-mandate.)
At Thursday’s meeting, schools Superintendent Hilda Maldonado expressed her support for the vaccine mandate. She cited growing concerns over the more highly contagious delta variant and the 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,” she said. “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.”
Dr. Maldonado said the district is offering counseling for employees concerned about the vaccine’s safety.
Kate Ford, the school board president, said she supported the mandate because her heart and 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,” she said. “It is a decision in the interest of the greater good.”
Ms. Ford cited other instances in which regulations are needed for the greater good, such as seat belt requirements and ordinances against smoking in public places.
Other school board members agreed that the vaccines are crucial in protecting students’ health and safety.
“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,” Ms. Capps said. “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.”
Seventy-eight percent of teachers responding to a Santa Barbara Teachers Association survey support the mandate, Joyce Adriansen, the association’s president, told the board.