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Gov. Newsom in school

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom spends time in a first-grade classroom at Juanita B. Jones Elementary on August 6, 2021, the first week back to in-person classes in the San Bernardino City Unified School District since March 2020. (Photo: Watchara Phomicinda/MediaNews Group/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images)

California Requires Covid-19 Vaccines or Tests for Teachers as US Education Secretary Backs Mandates

A Golden State union leader called the governor's move "an appropriate next step to ensure the safety of our school communities and to protect our youngest learners."

Jessica Corbett

As embattled Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that California will be the first state that requires all school staff to either prove they are vaccinated against Covid-19 or submit to weekly testing, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona endorsed such policies.

"Vaccinations are how we will end this pandemic."
—California Gov. Gavin Newsom

The developments come as coronavirus cases, largely fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, are rising in communities across the United States, especially those with lower vaccination rates. U.S hospitalizations and deaths are also increasing.

"To give parents confidence that their children are safe as schools return to full, in-person learning, we are urging all school staff to get vaccinated. Vaccinations are how we will end this pandemic," Newsom said Wednesday. "As a father, I look forward to the start of the school year and seeing all California kids back in the classroom."

Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health and the state public health officer, said that "there's no substitute for in-person instruction, and California will continue to lead the nation in keeping students and staff safe while ensuring fully open classrooms."

"Today's order will help the state's continued efforts to increase vaccinations, similar to the orders encouraging state and healthcare workers and businesses to get vaccinated," Aragón added.

Other public health, education, and labor leaders in the state also welcomed Newsom's move, with many pointing out that none of the vaccines authorized in the United States are approved for children under age 12.

"Educators want to be in classrooms with their students, and the best way to make sure that happens is for everyone who is medically eligible to be vaccinated, with robust testing and multi-tiered safety measures," said California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd.

The governor's announcement, Boyd continued, "is an appropriate next step to ensure the safety of our school communities and to protect our youngest learners under 12 who are not yet vaccine eligible from this highly contagious Delta variant."

"All along we have let community conditions, science, and public health guidance lead us and have strongly advocated for multiple layers of safety protections—vaccinations, masking, physical distancing, improved ventilation, and robust testing—to keep our school communities safe," he added, emphasizing the importance of involving educators in safety plans.

Boyd highlighted that the policy provides an "important alternative for those educators who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, while continuing to send a strong and clear message that every one of us—educators, eligible students, parents, and staff—must be doing everything we can if we hope to win this fight against Covid and keep our schools open safely."

California Federation of Teachers president Jeff Freitas also applauded the new policy, saying that combined with other key mitigation measures, it "will ensure we are doing everything possible to keep schools safe for in-person learning."

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) California said it "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for school plans should start with the goal of keeping students safe and physically present in school," and that "vaccination is an essential piece of the layered safety practices designed to ensure safe in-person learning for California's children."

"As the next school year begins, every effort must be made to keep students in schools in person, especially those that are vulnerable or are not eligible to be vaccinated," AAP California added. "All children should be ensured safe, equitable access to education."

California's policy will take effect on Thursday, and schools must be in full compliance by October 15, according to the governor's office, which noted that "robust and free testing resources are available to K-12 schools" through a state program.

Meanwhile, during a virtual National Press Foundation event on Wednesday, the U.S. education secretary said that he would "favor the vaccine being required" for school staff.

"I wouldn't have gotten the vaccine or had my children get it if I questioned whether or not it was safe," Cardona said, adding that "vaccination is the best way to get our schools open."

Cardona's comments and California's new policy come a day after the nation's leading infectious disease doctor also endorsed such mandates for adults in the nation's education system.

"I'm going to upset people on this, but I think we should," Dr. Anthony Fauci said of requiring school staff to get vaccinated, appearing on MSNBC.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that "we are in a critical situation now. We have had 615,000-plus deaths and we are in a major surge now as we're going into the fall, into the school season. This is very serious business."

"You're not gonna get mandates centrally from the federal government," Fauci said, making the case for local rules while recognizing expected backlash over personal freedom. "I think we're in such a serious situation now that under certain circumstances, mandates should be done."

Fauci's remarks followed American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten endorsing vaccination requirements for educators, saying Sunday that "as a matter of personal conscience, I think that we need to be working with our employers, not opposing them, on vaccine mandates."

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