Unvaccinated Santa Barbara Unified School District staff with approved medical and religious exemptions may continue working past Dec. 17 provided they submit to twice weekly COVID-19 testing, wear an N-95 mask and practice social distancing when possible.
The district informed its employees of the change Tuesday evening.
A total of 70 staff members applied for religious exemptions, and seven applied for medical exemptions.
Last week, some of these staff members protested the district’s vaccine mandate in a rally at Santa Barbara City Hall. They had received notice they were going to be placed on unpaid leave Dec. 17, contrary to prior districtwide emails.
Staff who did not provide proof of vaccination or request accommodation, of which there were eight, were placed on unpaid leave Nov. 1.
“We have substitutes who are filling in for those positions, but we are still working on a longer term solution,” a district spokesperson said in an email sent to members of the press.
The district attributes the change to multiple factors, including the Nov. 5 release of the U.S. Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency temporary standard. The standard calls for employers with staff of at least 100 to require vaccination or weekly testing and masking.
“A recent emergency approval of the COVID 19 vaccine for ages 5-11 means our elementary students now have the choice to become vaccinated, and thus increases health and safety by protecting students from the potential serious effects of the virus,” a district spokesperson said.
Community COVID-19 case rates have decreased, and the employee vaccination rate is up to 96%.
A group of staff members have joined and hired attorneys to contest the district’s vaccination mandate. The group is called UnifySB.
Attorney Robert Tyler of Tyler & Bursch LLP gave the following statement regarding the new accommodations:
“It’s a step in the right direction, but marking persons for discriminatory treatment is still unconstitutional. Here, the medical studies are clearly proving that the unvaccinated pose no greater risk for the spread of COVID than than those persons who are vaccinated, especially now that the studies show the COVID-19 vaccination may only be robust for the first couple months. We will continue to contend for medical freedom and liberty of choice.”