BRAWLEY — Vaccine requirements were the topic at hand at the most recent Brawley Elementary School District (BESD) meeting Tuesday, Oct. 12. This follows Governor Gavin Newsom signing an executive order that will require all schools in the state to mandate the entirety of their student population be vaccinated for COVID-19, officially adding it to the list of required vaccinations for students to attend school. 

School Superintendent Richard Rundhaug briefed the school board what exactly that would mean for the district in the coming weeks and months. Rundhaug said the COVID-19 vaccine will be added to an already existing list of vaccine requirements for students and will be for ages kindergarten through 12th grade once fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

“California is the first state in the nation to announce such a measure, meaning the COVID-19 vaccine being required,” said Rundhaug. 

Rundhaug brought an article to the board and read it to share the information in his presentation. 

“‘Thanks to the state’s bold public health measures, California continues to maintain the lowest case rate in the entire country and is one of the only two states to have advanced out of the CDC’s high COVID transmission category,’” said Rundhaug. 

Anita Parga is the parent of a student in BESD and spoke up during the public comments section to ask the board to not enforce a vaccine mandate. 

“Since it’s up to the district to decide if the COVID vaccine should be added to our district’s requirements, will the district lose any funding if you decide to opt out,” asked Parga. 

Parga said the vaccine mandate is should not be necessary for students to attend class and said they have kept schools open with the current measures in place. 

“I think that’s really strong evidence that we’re doing a great job as is,” said Parga. 

Parga said if the vaccine mandate were to go into effect, it would lead to more anxiety and depression among students and that it would foster an environment of segregation between the vaccinated and those that are not. 

“The COVID vaccine should be left for the parents to decide, if they want to vaccinate their children great; if they don’t, great. They shouldn’t be treated any differently for making the best choice for their family,” said Parga. 

School Board President Gil Rebollar said he has noted the emergence of vaccine mandates for students across various districts in the state and suspected it would become an action item for the school board at some point. 

Rebollar said he understands and hears the concerns of some parents who are against mandated vaccines and mask requirements in schools. 

“There’s a lot of reference to what’s being done in other states, you always hear us being compared to Arizona. I saw three weeks ago that Yuma Catholic School closed due to an outbreak in a state where masks can be mandated, in a private school where they have a bit more flexibility. They won’t be returning to school until next week, so that’s three weeks of distance learning. I'm proud that at Brawley Elementary we haven’t gone to distance learning or have any school in the County,” said Rebollar. 

Rebollar said a school in Wisconsin lifted their mask mandate and was immediately sued by parents when a COVID outbreak occurred. Rebollar said this is something that could happen if all COVID guidance was lifted. 

“I know these decisions aren’t easy, I know many don’t agree. But I’ve said it before, if it means using masks and ensuring that our kids continue to stay in school, that our schools don’t have to close up, that we don’t have to go into distance learning, look at what happened just 45 minutes away as an example. I know it’s easy to point at the state, but at the same time, we’re the board and we do support these guidances,” said Rebollar. 

Rebollar recognized there are those that would like to see all restrictions done away with but said he doesn’t want to be accused of having “blood on our hands” if an outbreak should occur with many students and staff getting infected. 

“We’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place with all this. At the end of the day, it comes down to us trying to protect our students and our staff and families. Masks are uncomfortable, they’re not fun, there is fatigue. Ultimately, safety is the number one thing and ensures that students stay in school,” said Rebollar. 

Rebollar said that even if the Imperial County Department of Public Health were to lift its indoor mask mandate policy, the district will continue to follow what the state is mandating. The state does have an indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status for schools. 

“Masks would still be required in our schools until the state says so,” said Rebollar. 

Rundhaug said 95 percent of schools have reopened with in-person instruction and have only had 14 school closures. 

“Out of the entire nation there’s been 2,000 school closures, only 14 have been out of California, so we only account for 0.7 percent of the school closures in the nation. The article goes on to say that California accounts for 12 percent of the population … so I think that’s a very good measure,” said Rundhaug. 

Depending on when the FDA makes the final approval, the statewide mandate will go into effect either on January 1 or July 1 of 2022, according to Rundhaug. 

“And so, I just wanted to share that there are these timelines that are in place, I think it's good to bring those up and that we are looking at the possibility of a vaccine mandate. I think it’s good to prepare people for that possibility so that they can hear about it and know that that’s part of the discussion within legislation right now,” said Rundhaug. 

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