Parents, students hold protest on COVID-19 mandates

Cindy Josten, speaks to a crowd of protesters outside of the William S. Hart Union High School District office Monday. October 18, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Hundreds of Santa Clarita Valley students and families participated in Monday’s “School Walkout,” a statewide protest against the recently announced vaccine mandate issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom.  

The order — which was issued statewide Oct. 1 ordering all elementary- through high school-age students to receive the vaccine upon their age demographic receiving final approval from the FDA for the vaccine — has been called necessary by some and draconian by others.  

Supported by Superintendent Tony Thurmond, as well as various state-level union and organizational leaders, the order was one of the first in the country, and is designed, according to Newsom, to keep the state’s case rate and transmission rates some of the lowest in the country.  

A crowd of protesters demonstrates outside of the Newhall School District office Monday. October 18, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Los Angeles County Public Health have both stated that the vaccine is one of the best ways to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, and local school district leaders have continually said throughout the last year and a half that they will follow the health mandates given to them.  

Pulling their kids from school for the day to demonstrate in front of school district offices throughout various parts of the community, some of the parents said they approved of the vaccine for themselves, while others said they did not approve of it for anyone in their family. However, nearly all were in agreement that their children should not be forced to receive the vaccine to go to school.  

“I’m not against the vaccine,” said Angie Hofstad, a parent demonstrating in front of the Newhall School District administration building at the corner of Wiley Canyon and Old Orchard roads. “I think it has done great things to protect those who are at high risk. But children, they’re not high risk, it’s so new and it hasn’t been approved … and anything that is not approved should not be mandated.”  

The vaccine has been approved for older student demographics, but has not yet been for a majority of kids who are elementary school age. If and when it’s approved for the younger students’ age groups, enforcement could begin as early as January or July.  

“I believe that it’s an experimental vaccine that isn’t (Food and Drug Administration)-approved,” Hofstad added. “We shouldn’t be mandated to put it in our children’s body; I think that’s a choice we should be given.”  

“I’m about freedom and choice,” said Michelle Grimaldi, who was there with her family and nephews, who are also students in the Newhall School District. “I understand that there’s two very different sides where everybody has very strong opinions, but I just am very passionate about everybody being able to make their own choice for their own health.” 

Some school districts reported seeing “higher than usual” absences on Monday, but, for instance, Castaic Union School District officials said it would be impossible to determine which unexcused absences on Monday are attributable to the walkout.  

A crowd of protesters demonstrates outside of the William S. Hart Union High School District office Monday. October 18, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Saugus Union School District officials said that while their staff callouts were only a few higher than their normal daily average, they say there were 1,590 absences during the walkout — and their usual daily average is approximately 400 on any given day.  

“I think it’s tremendous that we have parents taking this level of interest in ensuring that their kids get what they need,” said Newhall School District board President Brian Walters. “I can say that as a school district and a school board, we’ve faced our own frustrations with feeling like we are being mandated to do certain things without being able to give meaningful input in making good public policy.”  

“And the state’s requirement, as it is, raises some serious questions that need some serious answers,” Walters added. “We will certainly communicate the displeasure of our constituents to the state about the decisions that they’ve made that were being protested today.”  

In front of the William S. Hart Union High School District office on Monday, more than a hundred people were gathered outside, bearing sides that read, “My student my choice,” and “Where there is risk there must be choice.”  

“I put this together because our voices aren’t heard,” said Cindy Josten, one of the organizers of the demonstration occurring in front of the Hart district building. “We know the real numbers, we know the scientific numbers, and they’re still not listening to us that all these mandates are not good for our children.”  

“We just want our voices heard, we want our kids back in school and we’re tired of all these mandates that are causing anxiety and depression for our children,” Josten added.  

Kari Rich holds a sign while protesting outside of the Newhall School District office Monday. October 18, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Josten said that the demonstration on Monday started with a couple of parents but grew as word got out. Multiple people on Monday said they had felt their frustrations with the mandates among themselves, but after seeing the walkout being posted on social media, or hearing about it via word of mouth, they decided to participate.  

“This is not going to stop and we’re going to continue until we get our kids back in school in a healthy way,” said Josten, later adding: “It’s time for them to pay attention to the parents, we have rights, and we’re not going to stop fighting until they do (listen).”  

Hart governing board President Cherise Moore said she understands where the frustration comes from with the mandates, but also added she understands the issues facing her children, as well all others.  

“I hear and understand maybe more than most their frustration,” said Moore. “I am the mother of a school-age child, so I understand the impact these changes and mandates have on families. I also know the decisions I make for my child may have unintended consequences for other children.” 

Sulphur Springs Union School District Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi, in a statement distributed to parents on Friday, said the district had become aware of parents wanting to keep the kids home from school to protest COVID-19 requirements. She reminded parents that students will be impacted by “lost learning time” should they stay home. 

“The importance of ensuring routines and consistency for our children during these stressful times is a high priority,” said Kawaguchi. “People may disagree about the methods schools are required to follow, but I hope we can all agree that keeping our schools safe and open is what’s best for our students.”   

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