By Juliet Becker, Online Feature Editor
// As Americans continue to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and most schools across the country return to in-person learning, the question of whether or not there should be vaccine mandates for educators has become a growing debate.
The Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) Governing Board unanimously voted on Sept. 22 to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees and volunteers over the age of 16 by Nov. 1. If teachers cannot provide proof of their vaccination by then, the District will put them on administrative leave or terminate them.
Although vaccines are a point of contention both nationally and in the Acalanes community, the decision to require vaccines for teachers faced little pushback.
“I don’t mean to speak for everybody. I can only speak for the people who have reached out to us as union leaders… I have not heard from anyone who was opposed [to the mandate],” Acalanes math teacher and Acalanes Education Association (AEA) Executive Board Vice President Ken Lorge said. “[The AEA sees] it as a matter of public safety. It’s the best way to keep our own members safe [and keep] students who can’t be vaccinated safe. We kind of view it as a public safety issue, and this is the best and most effective way to do that.”
Many Acalanes students support the vaccination mandate because of how many students teachers interact with on a daily basis.
“For teachers, I believe [they should be required to be vaccinated] because they are exposed to hundreds of different students every day and will be in confined spaces with them for up to two hours,” senior Samantha Louie said.
Students also pointed out that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine, ensuring that it is safe and effective.
“I feel like [the mandate] is a step in the right direction because the vaccines are proven to save lives and are FDA approved, so there is no danger. I don’t see why they shouldn’t be mandatory since teachers are always around children and could potentially endanger many families if not careful, so extra precaution is needed,” senior Davis Frolich said.
Although the mandate requires all employees and volunteers to be vaccinated, the District will grant exemptions for medical reasons, where the employee or volunteer must provide evidence from a medical professional stating that the individual should be exempt from the requirement. AUHSD will also provide exemptions for religious reasons, but the mandate notes that the right to free exercise of religion doesn’t automatically excuse an individual from the mandate.
Following the decision to require all teachers to be vaccinated, many community members question if the District will require students to be vaccinated as well.
“It’s definitely been discussed informally, but nobody has taken any steps to formalize that. No decisions have been made by anyone, but it’s definitely a topic of conversation [and] it’s been considered in other districts, but nothing has been presented to us as a union or as staff from the district office,” Lorge said.
Some Acalanes students wonder if mandating vaccines for students is appropriate.
“I’m not sure if [students] should be mandated to be vaccinated because I know that there are more factors than just not wanting to get the vaccine that contributes to their decision. I think that we should be strongly urged, but I’m not sure about mandated,” Louie said.
However, other students believe that AUHSD should require students to be vaccinated to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
“Students especially, I think, should be vaccinated because we are always out and about doing things against the community guidelines, like six feet distancing and so on, so we need to get vaccinated. Also, if one of us gets sick, it could spread like wildfire because we are always around one another,” junior Kendal Geddes said.
Overall, the District continues to urge community members to get vaccinated, and many students agree that doing so is the best way to keep the community healthy.
“Everyone who is able to get vaccinated needs to. It’s the most responsible thing that you can do for everyone else around you, and I think that it should be mandatory to keep everyone as safe as possible,” junior Daphne Wandell said.