Vaccine Wars: After-Action Report from SB School Board Leaders Who Pushed Through New Tough Mandate
The morning after, school board leaders Kate Ford and Laura Capps expressed calm certainty about pushing through a controversial, toughened Covid vaccine mandate for Santa Barbara Unified teachers and workers. Twelve hours earlier, they were denounced as "tyrants," ".communists" and "domestic enemies of the U.S," -- not to mention violators of the "Nuremberg Codes" - for doing so.
"The job is to be able to take the incoming," said Capps who, with board president Ford, checked in to discuss the new policy, and the extended and heated public comment about it at the trustees meeting on Thursday night.
The board unanimously approved the policy, which beefs up an earlier vaccine requirement for SBUSD employees, all of whom now must be fully immunized by Nov. 1. Previously, teachers and others had a choice of getting the shots, or of being tested weekly; the new resolution, passed after nearly three hours of public comment from more than 50 speakers, no longer allows testing to replace receipt of the vaccine.
The mandate allows exceptions for health risks, and religious beliefs.
Although the measure is limited to adults, the two board members told Newsmakers they expect to come forward with another change -- likely to be even more controversial -- that would require all students 12 and older to be vaccinated. "Probably within about six weeks," said Ford, when asked about the timing for such a proposal.
Amid the spike in Covid cases due to the highly transmissible Delta variant, the two were spurred by a small but significant outbreak at an unidentified elementary school: an unvaccinated teacher is believed to have infected three of their students with the virus.
":The carrots haven't been working," Capps said of vaccine policies that have encouraged, but not required, adults working for the district to get the shots. "This is a pandemic...a public health crisis," in which the most, and most severe, cases now are among the unvaccinated, she added.
Led by the two board members, the Santa Barbara school district has moved faster and further in imposing tough regulations on vaccines than any other local public agency; the county supervisors have passed an optional, vaccine-or-test policy, while the city of Santa Barbara has done nothing. Mayor Cathy Murillo said negotiations are continuing with City Hall unions.
Although the two shrugged off the passionate, and sometimes personal, attacks leveled at them over pandemic policies -- several speakers on Thursday night compared them and other board members to Nazi doctors doing sadistic experiments on concentration camp prisoners -- the anger and volatile rhetoric among vaccine opponents locally matches what is happening across the nation, as some school board members, who generally work for little or no pay, are quitting or not running, saying that the acrimony, insults and personal risks are not worth the effort.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Ford, who has worked for decades as a teacher, principal, superintendent and, now, board member, in Santa Barbara and other districts in California.