Local school districts react to vaccine, testing mandate for staff

Golden Valley High School Principal Sal Frias, center,directs students to the registration tent their first Day of School on Tuesday, 081021. Dan Watson/The Signal

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement on Wednesday that all school employees in the state would be required to either show proof of vaccination or be tested once per week caught a number of local school districts off-guard, administrators said.  

A day after three local districts returned to campuses for the 2021-22 school year and a day before the remaining districts held their own back-to-school day, Newsom said the California Department of Public Health would be issuing a new public health order requiring proof of vaccination or negative tests by Oct. 15.    

Despite promising to supply K-12 schools with “robust and free” testing resources for those teachers and staff who are unvaccinated, Santa Clarita Valley school officials said the announcement forced them to analyze all the requirements they had just learned about.  

“Since this information was just released a few hours ago, we are diligently trying to digest all the requirements,” said Castaic Union School District Superintendent Steve Doyle on Wednesday. “Just like all of the other health orders, we will actively find solutions to comply to ensure the safety of our students and staff.” 

Administrators said Wednesday that for the past year and a half, they have been in a “reactionary” state, knowing that they will be given little to no advanced warning about a new public health order, forcing them to quickly adapt to the most recent change in health safety protocols.  

“We are working with our legal resources, our labor partners, and our employees to determine the steps we must take to be in compliance with this new mandate,” said Saugus Union School District Superintendent Colleen Hawkins, adding that she and her staff found out about the mandate while watching the press conference. “In the coming days we will notify our employees of this new mandate and support them to comply.” 

Mike Kuhlman, superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District, sent out an email to all district staff Wednesday night informing them that the announcement “was not expected” and that the district would need a few more days to understand the expectations of the mandate.  

However, Kuhlman added that although they were just finding out about the mandate, the district was “well-positioned” to handle the financial burden of the testing requirements after having secured a $3.4 million grant to support school-based COVID-19 testing and voluntary vaccination clinics.  

“We became aware of the new mandate only this morning and will be consulting with our advisors at LACOE (L.A. County Office of Education) and elsewhere to understand how to implement this new rule,” said Kuhlman over a phone call on Wednesday. “We believe that the district is positioned well to eventually implement this new rule because of a grant we previously secured to cover the cost of testing, etc.”   

Newhall School District Superintendent Jeff Pelzel agreed with all of his colleagues that the new information would need to be delved into, understood and then implemented with the understanding that testing requirements would have an impact on staff workload and district financials.  

“Thankfully we have until Oct. 15 to get everything in place so we can make the best decisions for the Newhall School District,” said Pelzel.  

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