As students and staff return to the Berkeley Unified School District amid worsening cases of the COVID-19 delta variant, the district’s Board of Education discussed mandatory vaccinations and updates on the first full week of school at its meeting Wednesday.
Superintendent Brent Stephens gave a presentation on a possible district policy change that would require vaccination for all student athletes and those participating in certain extracurricular activities by Oct. 15.
While the board did not take immediate action on the policy, members discussed the legality of the policy, as well as future steps impacting all students.
“The staff should continue exploring this and also explore a vaccination mandate for all students who are eligible for vaccines, so I think this is a step in the right direction,” said Director Ana Vasudeo during the meeting. “We should do this and also think of a longer, broader policy for all our students.”
Director Anjuna Mascarenhas-Swan agreed, noting the risks related to the spread of COVID-19 posed by resuming in-person athletics, while clerk and Director Julie Sinai suggested advocating for state legislators and the governor to issue a statewide mandate on vaccination for certain students.
The board members then discussed the need for exemptions under any vaccination mandate and examined which programs would fall under the definition of extracurricular activities.
During its previous meeting, the board assessed the merits of requiring vaccination for staff, particularly in light of policy from California Gov. Gavin Newsom requiring mandatory testing and vaccination for school staff. Board members briefly discussed and subsequently approved policy changes that would institute such requirements for the district.
“We should know more about how this will impact some students who may now not be able to participate at all because of those mandates, and what is our alternative?” asked Director Laura Babitt during the meeting. “If it’s just back to the same testing, we might already be there because most people are already vaccinated.”
Additionally, the school board spoke on updates to its community engagement efforts on middle school student assignments, outlining several surveys and town halls that will take place in the coming months.
According to board consultant Stacey Smith, the current proposal states the school board will receive the final recommendation on middle school enrollment policies in November. In response, board members raised questions on the timeline of the process, as well as equity issues that may arise at different middle schools.
In particular, Ka’Dijah Brown, board vice president and director, noted the importance of being aware of the language used in discussions and the engagement programs, while others emphasized the benefits of extending the deadline to 2022.
“I don’t want us to bite off more than we can chew this year because our focus is, we’ve reopened our schools,” Smith said during the meeting. “We need to keep our children in, we need to get the testing right; there’s so many protocols that we need to just get right in these next couple of weeks.”