More than a thousand parents, students and school staff crowded the west lawn of the state Capitol on Monday morning in protest of California’s upcoming COVID-19 vaccination mandate for eligible K-12 students.

The mandate, which Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Oct. 1, is the first of its kind in the United States — requiring all public and private school students to receive the vaccine when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes full approval of the shots for their age groups. The state is allowing personal belief exemptions.

Parents, children, teachers and organizers crowded the lawn and steps of the Capitol in downtown Sacramento, some holding signs that read, “I will not co-parent with the government.” One parent carried a pole with the state flag upside down. Rally speakers like Parent Union’s Celeste Fiehler of Coachella attended the protest demanding a voice at the table, objecting to the state’s executive decision.

Organizers Amber Faddis and Tess Van Dusen, both Placer County mothers, organized the rally through Facebook. The response on social media, which encouraged children to stay home from school, resonated with thousands of parents who liked and shared the campaign.

“We both trust you to protect your children,” Van Dusen said to the cheering crowd of more than 1,000 people. “We are here because you deserve that right. If you choose the vaccine, we stand with you. If you choose not to vaccinate, we stand with you.”

Speakers at the rally called on attendees to reach out to their local school districts to oppose the mandate. But many school boards have already announced their plans to comply. The California Schools Board Association announced it welcomed the state’s decision to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of already existing vaccine requirements in the state.

“California requires a more comprehensive strategy that frees local school boards from the need to act as de facto public health officials,” read a statement from CSBA President Dr. Susan Heredia in response to Newsom’s announcement. “Those decisions are better left to people at the state level who are designated to perform public health functions. In addition, a statewide standard for student vaccinations may help defuse some of the unlawful behavior directed at school board trustees by those who oppose local mandates.”

Parents consider their options

Lisa La Torre of Loomis brought her three children to the rally because she believes everyone should have a choice to be vaccinated or not.

“We should be able to obtain a free and fair education.” she said, adding that if the mandate goes into effect, she plans to home-school her children, who are currently in fourth, eighth and 9th grades. The long-term plan, she said, is to leave the state — possibly to North or South Carolina.

“We’ve been on the fence as business owners,” La Torre said. “But the mandate is the cherry on top.”

Karina Ramirez of Modesto drove an hour and a half to attend the rally with her children Alexia, 9, and Adrian, 8. Ramirez became tearful thinking about their options. She also plans to home-school. But as owners of a family restaurant, leaving the state is not that easy, she said.

“We can’t leave the rest of the family,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking, because we live in America. As adults, we can make our own decisions, but our children cannot.”

Both La Torre and Ramirez cited concerns that there was not enough research done on COVID-19 vaccines for adolescents. Multiple vaccines for coronaviruses began decades ago, particularly during the SARS outbreak nearly 20 years ago.

Districts begin reporting absences

It’s unclear how many students participated in the related walkout. Some parents told The Sacramento Bee they noticed reduced traffic around their neighborhood schools, indicating how many families chose to keep their children at home on Monday.

Many school districts will have final official numbers on absences the following day, but those absences largely do not indicate why a child did not attend classes.

Both Natomas Unified and Elk Grove Unified school district officials said there was nothing different about Monday’s attendance numbers. Rocklin Unified School District students had Monday off as a professional learning day for teachers.

More than 4,600 students were marked absent across San Juan Unified School District for one or more class periods Monday for a variety of reasons, according to the district. That’s about 600 more absences than the previous Monday. The district loses about $76 a day for each student absence.

Mia Yang-Foster, an Elk Grove Unified parent of three, took her two children and niece to the rally. Yang-Foster, who is fully vaccinated, said she didn’t feel comfortable vaccinating her 11-year-old and 9-year-old because she left there was a lack of long-term data on the vaccine.

“My husband has been battling health issues since he got the final dose of the Moderna back in June,” she said. “It has been stressful on the family, and I prefer to wait for more data before injecting my children with this vaccine.

“Aside from these reasons, I simply believe in the freedom to choose our own medical procedures.”

Many local parents support the mandate

Brittany Paiz, a Sacramento mother, said she chose to send her students to school.

“There are so many vaccine that our kids have to have already to go to school,” she told The Sacramento Bee. “Does it make a difference with one more?”

Ateliah Ruhl, a Sacramento parent said she sent her children to campus because “this is an adult fight.”

“The kids missed an entire year and then some, and they’re still missing a ton of school being out sick due to covid protocols,” Ruhl said. “It’s senseless to pull them out intentionally. The government already knows what they’ll lose if kids aren’t in school. You don’t need to show them.”


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