Valley school districts scrambled Wednesday to determine how best to implement the new state public health order announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom that will require staff in public and private schools across California to either provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or undergo testing at least once weekly.
Newsom’s announcement comes the same week that many districts, including Central and Fresno, scheduled the first day of school.
California is the first state in the nation to make vaccination and weekly testing a requirement for teachers and other school staffers, the governor said.
“We think this is the right thing to do, and we think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open and to address the No. 1 anxiety that parents like myself have … knowing that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe, to keep our kids healthy,” Newsom said.
The announcement of the new public health order made by the California Department of Public Health was at an Oakland school.
Schools have until Oct. 15 to fully comply. Staffers will need to be vaccinated no later than Oct. 2 to be considered fully vaccinated by the Oct. 15 deadline.
The announcement from Newsom came one day before Fresno Unified schools are back in session. District spokeswoman Vanessa Ramirez said school officials remain focused on being ready for the first day of school but also are examining what will need to be done to meet the requirements of the public health order.
“We plan to continue complying with mandates that come our way, such as indoor mask-wearing and this vaccination/testing requirement for staff, but we will not be distracted from our mission of providing an excellent, equitable education to our students by the ongoing politicization of such mandates,” she said.
Vaccinations, testing, and mandatory face masks are among the layered mitigations that will protect students and staff at schools, but the primary component is vaccination of employees as well as families, the Fresno Teachers Association said in a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon.
“We are in talks with district leadership about systemic mitigation layers that will encourage families and educators to take the vaccine and we will work with district leadership about the implementation details of this new statewide policy. We will communicate with members as new information becomes available,” the post said.
Clovis Unified, like other school districts across the state, will comply with the new requirements, but district officials first need to determine how best to implement them, district spokeswoman Kelly Avants said. Clovis students will return for the first day of school on Monday.
“We will be looking into the new orders and then will begin developing details on what is needed to meet this new requirement” by the Oct. 15 deadline, she said.
Staying in School is Key
The new public health order will help keep students and teachers in class consistently, said Kristin Heimerdinger, a Buchanan High teacher who is spokeswoman for the Association of Clovis Educators, which aims to be the labor union for Clovis Unified teachers.
“We are thrilled to be back in person with our students and we want to make sure it stays that way,” she said.
Gilbert Magallon, spokesman for Central Unified, said the district was reviewing the information from the governor’s office on Wednesday.
When asked how the state would enforce the mandate, Newsom said he expects districts will comply with this order as they do with all the other rules and regulations in the state Education Code.
“We’re not concerned about that. We think we have enlightened leaders, people that recognize what’s at stake, their own health, the health and safety of the children that they’re serving. That’s their mission. That’s our mandate. And we’re confident that we’ll see compliance.”