After delaying a vote on the issue twice, Seattle Public Schools board members are now urging the state Department of Health to begin a review to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of immunizations required to attend school.
During Wednesday’s regular meeting, School Board members unanimously approved a resolution that “urges” the Washington State Board of Health to consider making the COVID vaccine a requirement for children ages 5 and older once it’s been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final signoff to Pfizer’s vaccine for children 5 to 11, making all school-aged children eligible for a vaccine.
About 18 protesters stood outside the board meeting room and could be heard inside the board room shouting “no vax mandate.” A few people also came into the board room, holding signs. It’s not the first time protesters have shown up — they were also outside the building the last time the resolution was considered by the board, earlier this month.
Board members took issue with some of the comments made by community members during public comments, including those that included misinformation about the pandemic.
“As folks are shaking their heads in the audience and raising their voices outside, please continue, that is your God-given right (of free speech),” board member Brandon Hersey said. “But it is also my God-given right as an elected official to make sure that I keep every child in this district safe and that is exactly what I intend to do.”
For those who don’t want to receive the vaccine if it were to become a requirement for students, “you do not have to participate,” board member Liza Rankin said. No one is forced to attend public school, she added.
A vaccine mandate would make schools safer and allow more children to “equitably access” in-person education, the resolution says. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on “students furthest from educational justice” because of inequities in technology, transportation, family flexibility and food security, according to the resolution.
The State Board of Health is working with the state Department of Health to convene a technical advisory group to consider adding the COVID vaccine to the list of immunizations for students, officials said. The health board “anticipates” holding a briefing in January during its public meeting to discuss the progress of the advisory group.
According to the state Department of Health, 189 COVID outbreaks have occurred in Washington’s K-12 schools between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30. Since the start of the school year, there have been 709 coronavirus cases reported in Seattle schools as of Friday, according to the district’s COVID dashboard.
Board members have been hesitant to vote on the resolution, which was first brought to the Seattle School Board on Oct. 13, out of concerns for the community. At first, the board wanted more time to connect with families, hear their concerns, answer any questions and provide information about the vaccine.
When the resolution was brought up for the second vote at the beginning of the month, the board wanted more time to bring the revised resolution back to the community so as to minimize confusion.
Board members have reached out to students of color, the Seattle Special Education PTSA, the NAACP, Latinx Community with Public Health, Families of Color Seattle, the Somali community and Native American families.
School districts in Washington don’t have the authority to require students to receive a specific vaccine — only the state has that power. That’s not the case in California, where some of the largest school districts have already taken steps to require student coronavirus vaccinations.
Los Angeles Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District require students 12 and older to receive the vaccine to attend in-person school. The San Diego Unified School District requires students 16 and older to be vaccinated. Last month, California became the first state in the country to announce a plan to add the coronavirus vaccine to the list of immunizations to attend in-person school for middle and high school children.