Parents Marched on Sacramento and Across the State to Protest Student Vaccination Mandate
Thousands of parents and students took part in a school walkout across the state on Monday protesting Governor Newsom’s school vaccine mandate. Many of them came to the state Capitol in Sacramento for a rally called “Our Children, Our Choice,” and many more rallied in their home districts, leaving some school districts to mark notable absence rates among students.
Governor Newsom ordered on October 1 that all public and private school students will be mandated to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the first statewide mandate for children in the nation. This rule will take effect the first school term after the FDA has fully approved vaccines for those 12 and older. The Governor’s office predicts the requirement for grades 7-12 will start on July 1, 2022. The mandate for younger ages will apply when the vaccine is fully approved for them.
Rachel Kattan, a mother of two and a member of Parent Union, kept her two kids home from school, because she doesn’t “believe it’s the government’s job to interfere in a decision that should be made between a mother, her children, and their doctor.” She also said that “I’m not against vaccines, just against mandates.”
While some are supportive of the vaccine mandate, Kattan is not alone in her belief that the state should not force students to receive the shot. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 46% of American adults believe that K-12 schools should not mandate students to get the COVID-19 vaccine when they are eligible. Approximately 40% also believed that K-12 schools should also not have to require teachers or staff to be vaccinated as well. Among parents of students who are between the ages of 12 and 17, approximately 21% of them said they will not get their children vaccinated. This walkout was not only among those personally against the vaccine, but also those who are vaccinated but feel like the compulsion to be vaccinated goes too far.
Jonathan Zacherson, from the organization Reopen California Schools and one of the Sacramento rally’s organizers, reaffirmed to the crowd that their own vaccination status did not matter at this rally. “There are people here that are fully vaccinated and that’s great. There are people here that aren’t and that’s perfectly fine,” he said. “What unites us is that we believe people should have the freedom to choose a medical procedure without being forced into distance-learning or putting their careers and livelihoods at risk.”
Kim Palomo, a mother of three, including two between 12 and 17, who also attended the rally, said that “mandated vaccines bring a risk that my family is not willing to take.”
What was the impact of the walkout? In some areas of the state, the student absences were very noticeable. In Placer County, Roseville City school district had an absence rate of 18%, and the Eureka Union school district had an absence rate of 20%, many times more than their usual absence rates. In LAUSD, there was a 2% drop in the usual attendance rate compared to previous Mondays. This would be equated to 11,939 additional students not going to school on walkout day.
According to CalMatters, the California Department of Public Health will develop rules for personal belief and medical exemptions, but details are not known at this time. There are some suggesting there might not be a personal belief exemption. If a student is not fully vaccinated, and assuming they do not fall under these exemptions, they will be assigned to independent study. Governor Newsom also allowed local school districts to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine earlier if they so desire.
These parents and children are sending a message to Sacramento and across the country that in this unprecedented time, freedom must be respected, regardless of your thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccines.
Brandon Ristoff is a policy analyst for the California Policy Center.