SUHSD Board of Trustees postpones COVID-19 vaccination mandate to July 2023

SUHSD+Board+members+present+Resolution+No.+4762+to+attendees.+SUHSD+Superintendent+Mois%C3%A9s+Aguirre%2C+Ed.D.%2C+takes+the+lead+in+the+discussion%2C+reviewing%0ACOVID-19+cases+and+vaccine+availability+within+the+district.

Alexa Vazquez

SUHSD Board members present Resolution No. 4762 to attendees. SUHSD Superintendent Moisés Aguirre, Ed.D., takes the lead in the discussion, reviewing COVID-19 cases and vaccine availability within the district.

Alexa Vazquez, Editor-at-large

On Dec. 13, 2021, the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) Board of Trustees adopted Resolution No. 4762 with a 5-0 vote. This vote officially passed the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for SUHSD staff, students and faculty. The mandate would have required students and staff to be fully vaccinated to continue with in-person instruction for the 2022-2023 school year. Students who were unable to receive full vaccination would be referred to an Independent Study program, where they would resume distance learning. 

However, on May 10, 2022, SUHSD Superintendent Moisés Aguirre Ed.D. sent out an email to SUHSD families stating that the Board of Trustees would now postpone the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate until July 2023. 

The decision was made “in accordance with the announcement of Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health,” as stated by Aguirre in the email. “We anticipate releasing further information on student vaccine implementation in early 2023.”

The email announcement clarified that, despite the postponement, the district will continue to implement COVID safety protocols. Such as strongly recommending students and staff to receive full vaccination and boosters, promoting hygiene and cleaning protocols and continuing district wide testing efforts. 

On Dec. 13, the SUHSD Board of Trustees held a meeting where Aguirre and the Board of Trustees came to a decision, citing that the district supported plans for a 2022-23 vaccination mandate in order to continue in-person classes in the midst of high COVID-19 cases.  

“[Vaccination is] key to our ability to staff schools. We cannot wait. [Otherwise we] may have to start school without a full staff,” Aguirre said.

[Vaccination is] key to our ability to staff schools. We cannot wait. [Otherwise we] may have to start school without a full staff.”

— SUHSD Superintendent Moisés Aguirre Ed.D.

Prior to the postponement, plans to implement the vaccine mandate for the 2022-23 school year were underway. Medical and religious exemptions from vaccinations for SUHSD staff were due to the district by February 1, 2022, and exemptions were sent on schedule. 

“Our goal is to continue with in-person instruction to the [furthest] degree possible; obviously that is our primary driving objective in bringing this forward,” Aguirre said. “We have students, we have staff, we have parents; a broader community that’s impacted by the rules and procedures that we adopt. Taking all these considerations into account, the vaccine mandate is the single best protective tool.” 

SUHSD teachers and parent speakers who attended the board meeting spoke of how the mandate would threaten to cut staff across schools within SUHSD.  According to Aguirre, approximately 14 percent of reported staff members have yet to report full vaccination. SUHSD Special Education teacher and speaker Terry Sparks expressed his frustrations over the mandate to the board. He claims that “vaccinated staff will be free to work, while unvaccinated staff will be fired.”

After addressing potential threats to staffing, the Board of Trustee members discussed the history of the resolution and the need to promptly approve the mandate. Prior efforts to mandate the vaccine ended with a call to implement regulations before July 2022. This would be in line with suggestions made by California Governor Gavin Newsom. 

“Within district boundaries, there have been 1096 deaths or roughly 25 percent of the county’s deaths [due to COVID-19]. While most individuals infected with COVID-19 suffer less severe symptoms, the pandemic has resulted in far-reaching impacts to district staff, students and the community; ranging from sickness, isolation, job loss [as well as] community and school closures,” Resolution No. 4762 cites. “Now more than ever, additional safety protocols need to be considered so students and staff can remain safe [during] in-person instruction and work.” 

The decision, however, was postponed to July 2023, where it would be further discussed by the district and the SUHSD community. 

“We thank you for your vigilance in helping keep our students, staff, and community safe and healthy. We are grateful for your support, patience, and understanding,” Aguirre said.